George Orwell Simply Lacked Imagination

Thankfully, our government seems to have no such deficit:


The core of this effort is a little-known system called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement, or ADVISE. Only a few public documents mention it. ADVISE is a research and development program within the Department of Homeland Security, part of its three-year-old Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment, or TVTA, portfolio. The TVTA received nearly $50 million in federal funding this year.


A major part of ADVISE involves data-mining — or “dataveillance,” as some call it. It means sifting through data to look for patterns. If a supermarket finds that customers who buy cider also tend to buy fresh-baked bread, it might group the two together. To prevent fraud, credit-card issuers use data-mining to look for patterns of suspicious activity.

What sets ADVISE apart is its scope. It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information — from financial records to CNN news stories — and cross-reference it against U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement records. The system would then store it as “entities” — linked data about people, places, things, organizations, and events, according to a report summarizing a 2004 DHS conference in Alexandria, Va.


But ADVISE and related DHS technologies aim to do much more, according to Joseph Kielman, manager of the TVTA portfolio. The key is not merely to identify terrorists, or sift for key words, but to identify critical patterns in data that illumine their motives and intentions, he wrote in a presentation at a November conference in Richland, Wash.

For example: Is a burst of Internet traffic between a few people the plotting of terrorists, or just bloggers arguing? ADVISE algorithms would try to determine that before flagging the data pattern for a human analyst’s review.

The scary part is that this isn’t even technically unfeasible. To a large extent, it’s exactly what Google does, except it would be tweaked for a different purpose.


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