What is government data mining?

Gaining insight for decision making in a timely manner requires that companies be able to take into account the enormous amount of information that is available both online and stored in enterprise databases. However, simply accessing the information is not enough to do the job. It requires software that can identify hidden patterns and relationships among disparate pieces of information. In this case, data mining can be a worthwhile technique.

Data mining programs differ in the technologies used to achieve operational goals, in the sources of data used (government data, enterprise information and private data) and in the formats (structured and unstructured). The areas that can benefit from the use of data mining are also diverse: law enforcement, terrorism prevention, customs control, financial transactions, and international trade.

Data mining for Government

Data mining applications are widely used in a variety of industries because they enable quick and relatively inexpensive analysis for massive volumes of data. This makes data mining an effective tool for a range of uses within the federal government, which applies it for analyzing intelligence to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks. Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, data mining has been increasingly employed to help detect threats to national security.

Government Data Mining: Privacy issues

By collecting and analyzing public and private sector data, government data mining is able to identify potential terrorists or other dangerous activities by unknown individuals. However, this capability continues to raise concerns for private citizens when it comes to the government’s access to personal data. In fact, in the absence of specific laws for privacy, the government could have unlimited access to a massive volume of personal data from behaviors, conversations and habits of people who have done nothing to legitimize suspicions, and it could create a dramatic increase in government monitoring of individuals.

The privacy issues raised concern the quality and accuracy of the mined data, how it is used (especially uses outside the original purview), protection of the data , and the right of individuals to know that their personal information is being collected and how it is being used.

On the other side, the lack of legal rules for government data mining restricts the ability of companies to use and share the information with governments in legal ways, making the development of new data mining programs slower.

However, a better understanding of what government data mining is, why it is used and who uses it could be useful in helping us find a solution to the ethical implications of data mining that strikes a balance between privacy and its use for national security.


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