ACLU Letter to Senator Daniel Akaka

Document Date: May 27, 2004

American Civil Liberties Union
Center for Democracy and Technology
Electronic Privacy Information Center

May 26, 2004

Senator Daniel Akaka
141 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
VIA FACSIMILE: 202-224-21216

Dear Senator Akaka,

We write to thank you for requesting the production of the General Accounting Office report “”Data Mining: Federal Efforts Cover A Wide Range of Uses.”” This report is a very significant contribution to our understanding of the growing use of the technology known as “”data mining”” – and one that comes at a crucial time. The report is especially important for two reasons.

First, it demonstrates that the use of “”data mining”” techniques is widespread in the Federal Government. Americans are living through a time when new technological capabilities for the gathering, storing, compilation, and analysis of vast numbers of records of Americans’ everyday activities are exploding. This report shows just how widespread the embrace of such powerful techniques is becoming within government, and how little has been done to update our oversight mechanisms to compensate.

Second, the report documents the widespread reliance on private-sector sources of information. This is significant because computers and computer chips are working their way into our daily lives to an amazing extent. While this is improving our lives in many ways, it is also creating a situation where Americans’ every action, movement, and communication is likely to be recorded and stored in the memory of some computer database. And because the bulk of citizens’ daily transactions occur within the private sector – which often has strong economic incentives to gather and store information – government access to such databases creates the potential for a dramatic increase in government monitoring of individuals.

These two elements – the government’s growing access to private-sector data and the growing use of statistical “”data mining”” techniques – raise significant questions. Indeed, the Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee to the Department of Defense recently concluded that “”rapid action is necessary to address the host of government programs that involve data mining.”” By requesting preparation of this report, you have made an invaluable contribution to the ongoing public debate over how this nation can extend and adapt its checks and balances to preserve American values in the face of these powerful new techniques, while fully taking advantage of the amazing benefits that computer technology is bringing us.


Laura W. Murphy, Director, Washington Legislative Office
American Civil Liberties Union

Barry Steinhardt, Director, Technology and Liberty Program
American Civil Liberties Union

James X. Dempsey, Executive Director
Center for Democracy and Technology

David L. Sobel, General Counsel
Electronic Privacy Information Center