Report to DoD: Data Mining Won’t Catch Terrorism

Via Secrecy News, “JASON”—a unit of defense contractor the MITRE Corporation—has reported to the Department of Defense on the weakness of data mining for predicting or discovering inchoate terrorist attacks.

“[I]t is simply not possible to validate (evaluate) predictive models of rare events that have not occurred, and unvalidated models cannot be relied upon,” says the report.

In December 2006, Jeff Jonas and I published a paper making the case that predictive modeling won’t discover rare events like terrorism. The paper, Effective Counterterrorism and the Limited Role of Predictive Data Mining, was featured prominently in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing early the next year.

Privacy gives way to appropriate security measures, as the Fourth Amendment suggests, where it approves “reasonable” searches and seizures. Given the incapacity of data mining to catch terrorism and the massive data collection required to “mine” for terrorism, data mining for terrorism is a wrongful invasion of Americans’ privacy—and a waste of time.