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Terrorism Templates and You

From Defense Tech:
It's not just about who calls who. The NSA phone-monitoring project looks at how terrorists place their calls – and then applies that model to everyone, to see who else might be a suspect...

"Armed with details of billions of telephone calls, the National Security Agency used phone records linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to create a template of how phone activity among terrorists looks," according to USA Today. "The template, officials say, was created from a secret database of phone call records collected by the spy agency. It has been used since 9/11 to identify calling patterns that indicate possible terrorist activity....

Today, we learn why everyone's calls had to be in the target set. The NSA wasn't just conducting social network analysis. It was using a more controversial data mining technique,....It focuses on prediction, not connections.

Under this approach, sophisticated algorithms hunt for patterns of terrorist behavior in information-trails, and then apply those patterns to average citizens, seeing which ones fit. It doesn't matter who you know. It's what you do that gets you in trouble. If you spend money and buy plane tickets like Mohammed Atta did, then maybe you're a terrorist, too....

Still not worried about this program?

The approach taken by the NSA is a flawed expansion of a valuble tool. Network analysis that grows out of known terrorist numbers and who they call has proven itself repeatedly as an efficient, effective tool for rooting out bad guys. The key here is that one starts with a known bad number and systematically looks at all contacts, dropping those that are obviously innocent.

The problem with the current program is that it tries to take a huge database and apply this technique without starting from a known bad number. That will lead to thousands of false positives and is horribly invasive of our privacy.

I am amazed the public is so docile about this clearly unconstitutional action.

Thanks for the comment. I agree with you that network analysis does have its good points, so long as you have a solid starting point to work from. And I too am amazed by the public's lack of interest in what could have an adverse affect on their lives. How many innocent people out there do you suppose have been flagged as a result of these false postives? Probably more then the government would care to admit.

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