Jewish World Review June 12, 2013/ 4 Tamuz, 5773
Just follow the numbers
By Paul Greenberg
Data-mining is the sophisticated mathematical analysis of large masses of numbers in search of telltale patterns. I won't pretend to know how it works. At the first mention of algorithms, to borrow a phrase from the late great
I do know there are historical patterns as well as mathematical ones, and the current foofaraw over the use of Big Data to prevent terrorist attacks on this country fits right into an old and familiar one: In the first rush of fury after a sneak attack on this country, Americans stand united behind our president and commander-in-chief. And back his every move.
But as the struggle continues year after year, as sacrifices mount and doubts multiply, national unity begins to fray.
In the immediate aftermath of
The same pattern emerged during the Korean Conflict, a war by a different name.
Note the rise and fall in political support for
Whatever doubts about those policies
Yes, our president still pays lip service to some of the views he embraced as a senator: He still wants to close Guantanamo, though without offering a better or even clearer alternative to holding unlawful combatants there. And just the other day he was recommending repeal of the Patriot Act, even as he was pursuing the War on Terror (if not by the same name any longer) under that act.
Naturally enough, our president is loath to admit he's changed course. He's not a man who can readily admit he was wrong. About anything. Rather, he explains that his position on this war has "evolved."
Fine. What does it matter how the president explains his change of heart so long as he's adopted the right course now? As he has when it comes to data-mining, which is just the kind of intelligence operation that might have prevented
Republicans should resist the temptation to pile on this president (and commander-in-chief) when he is defending the country by every legitimate means at his disposal.
The loyal opposition needs to avoid doing to President Obama what Sen. Obama and partisan company did to
Some senators still display their old knee-jerk tendencies when a president seeks to protect us under the Patriot Act. See the reaction of the Hon.
If the senator really wants to know the reason for all this data-mining, he need only go over to lower
As the hubbub over data-mining bubbles on (newspapers do have to have scandals to write about even if they're non-scandals), here's hoping everybody will calm down soon enough and try to see this issue in perspective.
Lest we forget, data-mining reveals only the location and duration of phone calls, not their content. Just as your phone bill does. So the government can spot suspicious activity. In much the same way, some little old lady innocent in
In order to listen to the content of a call or get the text of an email, the government still needs the permission of a court. The court proceedings may be secret -- why alert the bad guys? -- but they're an additional safeguard against government's abusing its authority to protect us.
This little flare-up in the news, or what passes for news in this case, will surely fade soon enough. And should. For data-mining has been with us for years. Perspective should return once folks understand what data-mining is and what it's not. It's a sophisticated way to spot incipient threats to our security. It's not an unrestricted license to read American citizens' emails or listen in on our phone calls. There's nothing scandalous about this "scandal."
Besides, with this administration mired in real scandals that seem to erupt every day, senators like
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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