Disclosure of government data mining could become US law

Snooping bill revived

The newly Democrat controlled US Senate and Congress will soon vote on a law that would force the government to disclose all data mining programmes on US citizens. The bill requires all federal agencies to disclose their data analysis activities.

If passed into law the bill would represent a policy change from the more secretive Republican Congress, led by President George W Bush's lead on surveillance. The Bush administration recently admitted that it broke privacy laws in its airline passenger data mining programme.

The administration has also become embroiled in a case over the tapping of phone lines of US citizens. It is fighting a law suit from citizens and pressure groups over a wire tap programme on which the suit claims that telco AT&T and the National Security Agency (NSA) collaborated. The suit claims that the wire tap programme was illegal.

A Republican and a Democrat senator have introduced a bill which would order federal agencies to report on the use of data analysis techniques to predict criminal or terrorist behaviour. In the past such bills have failed to pass through Republican Congress.

Democrats Russell Feingold and Daniel Leahy and Republican John Sununu have reintroduced the Federal Agency Data Mining Report Act, a bill which failed to receive a floor vote in 2003 and 2005.

The announcement of the bill's revival came in the same week that the new chairman of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, Democrat Patrick Leahy, devoted the committee's first hearing of the new year to the issue of how to check the executive's snooping powers.

"Congress is overdue in taking stock of the proliferation of these databases that increasingly are collecting more information about each and every American," Leahy told reporters in the US.

Leahy said that the government's terrorist watch list contained the names of more than 300,000 people, including those of some members of Congress. He said that 52 federal agencies use data mining, and that there are 199 data mining programmes planned or in operation. The NSA, he said, refused to disclose any of its data mining activities.

"The American people have neither the assurance that these massive data banks will make us safer, nor the confidence that their privacy rights will be protected," Leahy told the first hearing of his committee on the subject.

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