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Forum on Public Policy Online


Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the executive branch of the U.S. Government turned to data mining practices for the avowed purpose of protecting public security. Relying on a combination of legislative authorization and cooperation by the private sector, federal institutions have obtained access to information in commercial databases collected largely from routine business transactions by ordinary people posing no particular threat to public order. Much of the data mining has occurred without safeguards like prior court authorization and limitations in the Privacy Act of 1974. In the absence of these safeguards designed to protect individual liberty, data mining appears to have contributed to an erosion of public trust in government. Government surveillance following September 11, like responses to other crises in U.S. history, is motivated by fear. While many members of Congress have supported greater restraints on data mining, their efforts tend to be overridden by fear-based justifications for surveillance.


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