ADVISE: Now everyone can be a terrorist, or a crime victim

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is developing a vast data-mining system which would crawl the Internet and combine data from the Internet with other sources of information to look for potential terrorists.

Known as Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE), the system would use data-mining and semantic visualization techniques to look for suspicious activity, especially with respect to weapons of mass destruction.

The system will “incorporate a comprehensive encyclopedia of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threat and effects data,” said (PDF) Charles McQueary, DHS Undersecretary for Science and Technology. Update: On Friday McQueary has tendered his resignation, effective March 25, 2006.

Members of Congress say they haven’t been fully briefed on the program.

ADVISE and related DHS technologies aim to do much more, according to Joseph Kielman, manager of the TVTA portfolio. The key is not merely to identify terrorists, or sift for key words, but to identify critical patterns in data that illumine their motives and intentions, he wrote in a presentation at a November conference in Richland, Wash.

For example: Is a burst of Internet traffic between a few people the plotting of terrorists, or just bloggers arguing? ADVISE algorithms would try to determine that before flagging the data pattern for a human analyst’s review.

At least a few pieces of ADVISE (PDF) are already operational. Consider Starlight, which along with other “visualization” software tools can give human analysts a graphical view of data. Viewing data in this way could reveal patterns not obvious in text or number form. Understanding the relationships among people, organizations, places, and things – using social-behavior analysis and other techniques – is essential to going beyond mere data-mining to comprehensive “knowledge discovery in databases,” Dr. Kielman wrote in his November report. He declined to be interviewed for this article. — Christian Science Monitor

Defense Tech calls it TIA rebooted. The privacy protections planned for ADVISE don’t actually exist, because there’s no money provided for them. So ultimately, everything you do online could be stored, collated and searched for “patterns” and if you are at all out of the ordinary, you too could be flagged as a potential terrorist. Oh, and did I mention the potential for abuse? DHS isn’t all that great at securing its computer systems and networks. If criminals got unauthorized access to the system, they could find out just about anything about anybody.

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