Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 2003 / 23 Adar I, 5763
Yahoos on both the Left and the Right are trying to prevent government from maximizing technology in protecting us
There is a great deal of information about us out there in cyberspace. Banks
and credit card companies have a record of every credit card purchase we're
ever made. Phone companies have a record of every telephone call. Credit
bureaus know how much money we've borrowed, and how reliable we are in
paying our debts.
The information in cyberspace is like an immense mound of ore strewn with
golden nuggets. If businesses can sift through the ore to find the nuggets,
they can improve profitability and reduce costs by marketing more
The tool businesses use to sift through the mountain of cyberspace ore is
data mining. "We define data mining as the data-driven discovery and
modeling of hidden patterns in large volumes of data," said Tim Graettinger
of the Modeling Agency, a consulting firm. "Via data mining, a user can
discover patterns and build models automatically, without knowing exactly
what she's looking for."
Keystone Financial's promotion of its LoanCheck is an example of data mining
success, Graettinger said. Keystone had mailed a $5,000 check to its
customers, which they could cash at any Keystone branch. Keystone wanted to
use the LoanCheck to expand its customer base. Keystone's database tracks
about 300 characteristics of each customer. Keystone established a data
mining program to discover what the characteristics were of the customers
most likely to accept the LoanCheck offer. Then Keystone applied the model
to a list of 400,000 prospects obtained from a credit bureau. The result was
12,000 new customers.
Data mining guards against fraud. Blue Cross/Blue Shield in New York state
uses data mining to protect against false patient claims from physicians.
Deviations in physician behavior relative to his or her peer group are
reported to fraud investigators as a "suspicion" index. A physician who
performs a high number of procedures per visit, charges 40 percent more per
patient, or sees many patients on the weekend would be flagged.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the folks who
invented the internet, want to develop a program like the one Empire Blue
Cross/Blue Shield uses to protect Americans from terror attacks. But yahoos
on both the Left and the Right are trying to stop them.
The premise behind the DARPA program, which is called Total Information
Awareness (TIA), is that certain critical activities must take place before
a terror attack can be launched. These include casing targets, rehearsing,
procuring financing, supplies and weapons, and assembling an attack team. It
is all but impossible to conduct these activities without leaving a trail in
TIA software would search internet databases for signs of these terrorist
activities. For instance, if someone on a terror watch list made big bank
withdrawals, bought airplane tickets, made a lot of overseas phone calls to
numbers linked to terror groups, or purchased with a credit card precursor
materials for a car bomb or a chemical weapon, the TIA program could spot
the activity and hone in on the subject.
If TIA had been up and running in 2001, it is likely the Sept. 11 hijackers
would have been identified before they struck. Two of the hijackers were on
a State Department watch list. Phone records indicated they were calling
each other. They bought airline tickets on the same day. A search of the
people they called regularly would have uncovered other young Arab males who
also had bought airline tickets for the same day. A more detailed search
would have revealed that several had attended flight schools together. A
computer program trolling the internet for these indicators would have
popped up the proverbial red flag.
The Senate voted unanimously Jan. 23 to withhold funding for TIA, on the
grounds that it is a threat to civil liberties. But every element of the
program already is legal. The government has the right to search its own
databases. And the government has the right to search private databases,
which it is doing right now in an effort to find sources of terrorist
funding. All TIA would do is to permit the government to do swiftly and
efficiently what it is now doing clumsily and inefficiently.
Blocking TIA will not protect our liberties. But it will diminish our
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© 2002, Jack Kelly