DHS Ends Criticized Data-Mining Program

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 5, 2007; 9:26 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Homeland Security Department scrapped an ambitious anti-terrorism data-mining tool after investigators found it was tested with information about real people without required privacy safeguards.

The department has spent $42 million since 2003 developing the software tool known as ADVISE, the Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement program, at the Lawrence Livermore and Pacific Northwest national laboratories. It was intended for wide use by DHS components, including immigration, customs, border protection, biological defense and its intelligence office.

Pilot tests of the program were quietly suspended in March after Congress' Government Accountability Office warned that "the ADVISE tool could misidentify or erroneously associate an individual with undesirable activity such as fraud, crime or terrorism."

Since then, Homeland Security's inspector general and the DHS privacy office discovered that tests used live data about real people rather than made-up data for one to two years without meeting privacy requirements. The inspector general also said ADVISE was poorly planned, time-consuming for analysts to use and lacked adequate justifications.

DHS spokesman Russ Knocke told The Associated Press on Wednesday the project was being dropped.

"ADVISE is not expected to be restarted," Knocke said. DHS' Science and Technology directorate "determined that new commercial products now offer similar functionality while costing significantly less to maintain than ADVISE."

Earlier, DHS said testing would resume once appropriate privacy analyses and public notices were completed.

ADVISE was one of the broadest of 12 data-mining projects in the agency.

A DHS research official said in 2004 it would be able to ingest 1 billion pieces per hour of structured information, such as databases of cargo shippers, and 1 million pieces per hour from unstructured text, such as government intelligence reports.

The system was supposed to identify links between bits of information that could otherwise go unnoticed. And it would graphically display results in charts of relationships and links.

A DHS workshop report in 2004 said it hoped to answer queries like: "Identify any suspicious group of individuals that passed through customs at JFK (airport in New York) in January 2004."

The GAO said in March that DHS should notify the public about how an individual's personal information would be verified, used and protected before ADVISE was implemented on live data.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Associated Press