Data mining is already being used in a diverse array of commercial applications â€” whether by credit card companies detecting and stopping fraud as it happens, or by insurance companies that predict health risks. As a result, millions of Americans have become enmeshed in a vast and growing data web that is constantly being examined by a legion of Internet-era software snoops.
Although Congress abruptly canceled the program in October 2003, the legislation provided a specific exemption for “processing, analysis and collaboration tools for counterterrorism foreign intelligence.”
“The theory is that the automated tool that is conducting the search is not violating the law,” said Mark D. Rasch, the former head of computer-crime investigations for the Justice Department and now the senior vice president of Solutionary, a computer security company. But “anytime a tool or a human is looking at the content of your communication, it invades your privacy.”
Much of the recent work on data mining has been aimed at even more sophisticated applications. The National Security Agency has invested billions in computerized tools for monitoring phone calls around the world â€” not only logging them, but also determining content â€” and more recently in trying to design digital vacuum cleaners to sweep up information from the Internet.