March 25, 2003, 4:35 PM — A coalition of privacy groups called on the U.S. Congress to halt the creation of a federal database of airline-passenger profiles until more details are available, such as who would be included and how it would be operated. Meanwhile, the White House's chief information officer (CIO) questioned Tuesday at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing whether that data-mining program would be effective.
At that hearing, a law professor and congressman disagreed over whether Congress should regulate government data-mining efforts, while most witnesses praised the use of data analysis for everything from reducing credit card abuse in government to catching terrorists.
Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University and legal affairs editor of The New Republic magazine, said Tuesday that "suspicionless surveillance of large groups of people" would violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Rosen said the U.S. Department of Defense's Total Information Awareness (TIA) research project, which focuses on surveillance through mass data mining, and the Transportation Security Administration's proposed second version of the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) are examples of such "mass dataveillance." (More information about CAPPS II, can be found at http://www.tsa.gov/public/display?theme=44&content=535.)
"It's possible to design data-mining technologies in ways that strike better rather than worse balances between liberty and security," Rosen told the Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations, and the Census. That subcommittee falls under the House Committee on Government Reform.
"I urge Congress to accept the task of learning about the design choices inherent in these technologies. You have it in your power to strike a thoughtful balance between liberty and security, and all you need now is the will," he said.
Congress has decided to put a hold on the hotly debated TIA project, but Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican from Virginia who chairs the full government reform committee, questioned whether regulating data mining would slow the benefits of such technology.
Calling information retrieval the "oil of the 21st century," Davis said the benefits of data analysis are many. "My theory is we need to be slow about coming in and over-regulating sometimes," he said. "You let the industry come up with its own protocols before the government comes in and starts imposing a regulatory and taxing regime that could really stifle the growth and potential of this."