November 3, 2008 9:36PM

Government Data Mining: The Need for a Legal Framework

Indiana University law professor Fred Cate writes with characteristic thoroughness and organization in his article “Government Data Mining: The Need for a Legal Framework,” published in the Harvard Civil Rights‐​Civil Liberties Law Review this summer.

Here’s a snippet from the abstract:

The article describes the extraordinary volume and variety of personal data to which the government has routine access, directly and through industry, and examines the absence of any meaningful limits on that access. So‐​called privacy statutes are often so outdated and inadequate that they fail to limit the government’s access to our most personal data, or they have been amended in the post‐​9/​11 world to reduce those limits. And the Fourth Amendment, the primary constitutional guarantee of individual privacy, has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to not apply to routine data collection, accessing data from third parties, or sharing data, even if illegally gathered.

Professor Cate spends a good deal of time on the Supreme Court’s pernicious “third party doctrine,” which exempts information shared with a third party (think of ISPs, banks, etc.) from Fourth Amendment protection. This rule was bad when it was written and it grows worse and worse as we move our lives further and further online.

Oh, there are details from the paper I would have treated differently. He mistakenly says the 9/11 terrorists used false ID. (Fraudulently gotten, yes. False identities, no.) And he omits the Federal Agency Data Mining Reporting Act of 2007, passed as §804 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (Public Law 110–53). But these are trivial issues with a paper that is excellent overall.

(I note with pride and pleasure that he cites the Cato Policy Analysis “Effective Counterterrorism and the Limited Role of Predictive Data Mining,” which Jeff Jonas and I wrote.)

Poking around among the Internets to confirm this and that detail, I found this post saying that Professor Cate authored much of a recent report called “Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists.” It’s also very good stuff.

Fred Cate is doing good work.