Data Mining

Crop of image by Arlo Bates via Flickr

When Big Data Becomes a Civil Rights Problem

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:06am
My colleague Jay Stanley just wrote about an invasive new police tactic employed by the Chicago Police Department. Using software created by an engineer at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the city developed a “’heat list’ — an index of the roughly 400 people in the city of Chicago supposedly most likely to be involved in violent crime.” The criteria for placement on the list are secret but reportedly go beyond indicators like criminal conviction, and raise real questions about racial bias in the selection process.
Modification by Jay Stanley of photo by Nestor Lacle via Flickr

Chicago Police “Heat List” Renews Old Fears About Government Flagging and Tagging

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:40am

The Verge had a story last week (expanding on an August report from the Chicago Tribune that I’d missed) that the Chicago police have created a list of the “400 most dangerous people in Chicago.” The Trib reported on one fellow, who had no criminal…

Big Data, George Orwell, and Tanks

Big Data, George Orwell, and Tanks

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:33am

I recently came across an interesting passage by George Orwell. It made me think about Big Data.

It is a commonplace that the history of civilization is largely the history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery…

Graphs by MIT Students Show the Enormously Intrusive Nature of Metadata

Graphs by MIT Students Show the Enormously Intrusive Nature of Metadata

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 11:47am

You've probably heard politicians or pundits say that “metadata doesn't matter.” They argue that police and intelligence agencies shouldn't need probable cause warrants to collect information about our communications. Metadata isn’t all that…

How Do I Get Out of This Relationship?

How Do I Get Out of This Relationship?

By Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 10:03am

We have written extensively about online data brokers and their penchant for mining public records and secretly following you around the web in order to create profiles based on personal information they glean. They then share that information with…

Burying the Needle

Burying the Needle

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 2:54pm

Back in 2007, Reps. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) and James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress's watchdog over the federal government. As the two top members of the Subcommittee on Investigations and…

Not Just the NSA: Data Brokers Amass Detailed Profiles on Everyone Online

Not Just the NSA: Data Brokers Amass Detailed Profiles on Everyone Online

By Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:11pm

This month, a strongly worded Washington Post op-ed by Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill calling for transparency in the business practices of the online data broker industry provoked a heated response. While the ACLU and other privacy advocates…

The PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 Must be Reformed

The PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 Must be Reformed

By Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:16pm

The following remarks were given by Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, at Sen. Rand Paul's press conference yesterday announcing his intention to sue the government to stop NSA surveillance of Americans' communications.…

Simple Dataset About American Colonists Shows Power of Metadata

Simple Dataset About American Colonists Shows Power of Metadata

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:16pm

In the best tradition of educators who manage to be both entertaining and enlightening, Duke sociology professor Kieran Healy has posted “Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere”—a fascinating demonstration of just how revealing metadata can be when subject to certain quite simple but powerful number-crunching techniques. Using simple information about 260 colonists in the years before the American Revolution (what organizations they belong to), he shows step by step how the lowest analyst at the “Royal Security Agency” could use that data to build powerful insights into what might be going on among the rebellious colonists.

The scariest thing about this is just how small and simple the starting data set is. Healy concludes:

I must ask you to imagine what might be possible if we were but able to collect information on very many more people, and also synthesize information from different kinds of ties between people! For the simple methods I have described are quite generalizable in these ways, and their capability only becomes more apparent as the size and scope of the information they are given increases. We would not need to know what was being whispered between individuals, only that they were connected in various ways. The analytical engine would do the rest!

In other words, this demonstration has just show us a hint of what an organization like the NSA can probably do with metadata.

More evidence that (as we have argued at greater length elsewhere) those downplaying the intrusiveness of metadata are way behind the times.

For “Civic Hacking Day,” We’re Opening Our Torture Database to Developers

For “Civic Hacking Day,” We’re Opening Our Torture Database to Developers

By Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 10:59am

This Saturday and Sunday, June 1 and 2, mark the first annual National Day of Civic Hacking. The ACLU is participating by enabling developers to access our Torture Database and in turn make this information even more accessible to the public. Starting…

Statistics image