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After spy scandal, U.S. plans “massive” data sweep

by Middle East Review Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006 at 2:59 PM

"The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged...” The New York Times once said.

"The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged...” The New York Times once said.

When evidence is reached that a certain person runs, or is a member of a terrorist group, both the criminal code and intelligence laws authorize eavesdropping. But such illegal program also allows electronic monitoring without presenting any evidence to any court that the person being spied upon is a suspected TERRORIST.

But in the U.S. there’s another legitimate “terrorist surveillance program” called the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (FISA) that requires judicial approval of all electronic surveillance to prevent “international TERRORISM” or “sabotage.”

This federal law, which applies to any telephone or email to or from any American citizen, requires court approval of any the NSA or FBI to carry out such surveillance.

Recently, media reports revealed that the BUSH administration is preparing a massive computer system that collects incredible amounts of data and through linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports.

According to an article published by the Christian Science Monitor web site, Washington’s new campaign is the government's latest attempt to use broad data-collection and powerful analysis in the fight against the President’s so-called “WAR ON TERRORISM”.

But the program has revived the Americans’ anger sparked by the recent scandal where the U.S. government was found to be illegally spying on the population. The program also revived new concerns that the government is intruding too deeply into citizens' privacy.

"We don't realize that, as we live our lives and make little choices, like buying groceries, buying on Amazon, Googling, we're leaving traces everywhere," says Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"We have an attitude that no one will connect all those dots. But these programs are about connecting those dots - analyzing and aggregating them - in a way that we haven't thought about. It's one of the underlying fundamental issues we have yet to come to grips with."

ADVISE, The Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement system, is simply a research and development program ran by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), part of its three-year-old "Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment" portfolio.

"I've heard of it, I don't know the actual status right now. But if it's a system that's been discussed, then it's something we're involved in at some level," says Peter Sand, director of privacy technology.

ADVISE system involves data-mining - or "dataveillance," sifting through data to look for patterns. For instance if a supermarket finds that one of its customers bought cider as well as fresh-baked bread, it might group the two together, CSmonitor stated.

ADVISE, according to a report summarizing a 2004 DHS conference in Alexandria, Va., is designed to collect massive amount of corporate and public online information - from the citizens’ financial records to news stories – Information collected will be stored as "entities" - linked data about people, places, things, organizations, and events.

But critics say that ADVISE, parts of which are already operational, poses a major privacy challenge.

"We just don't know enough about this technology, how it works, or what it is used, it matters to a lot of people that these programs and software exist. We don't really know to what extent the government is mining personal data," says Marcia Hofmann of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.

Also congressmen with direct oversight of DHS, said they don't know much about the new “spying system” the U.S. government is preparing for.

"I am not fully briefed on ADVISE," wrote Rep. Curt Weldon (R) of Pennsylvania, vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in an e-mail. "I'll get briefed this week."

ADVISE "looks very much like TIA," Mr. Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in an e-mail. "There's the same emphasis on broad collection and pattern analysis."

"It isn't a bad idea, but you have to do it in a way that demonstrates its utility - and with provable privacy protection," says Latanya Sweeney, founder of the Data Privacy Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University.

ADVISE seems a continuation of the U.S. spy scandal- where the U.S. PRESIDENT GEORGE W.BUSH approved spying on Americans, citing security concerns, violating by that the FISA and the Fourth Amendment which protects the United States people’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires court approval except in an emergency.

According to the Supreme Court, the U.S. citizens' conversations cannot be seized under the Fourth Amendment without court oversight.

In one case involving warrantless wiretapping by President Nixon, the Supreme Court ruled that “Fourth Amendment freedoms cannot properly be guaranteed if domestic surveillance may be conducted solely within the discretion of the Executive Branch.”

When Congress passed FISA it stressed that it authorizes the exclusive means to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance in the U.S. It also made it a federal crime for agents to wiretap without a court order unless authorized by statute.

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