ADVISE data-mining program cut by Homeland Security

We advise skepticism


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is ditching a controversial data-mining program, the Associated Press revealed today.

The Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement program (ADVISE), a massive data-mining system under development at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory since 2003, was capable of analyzing one billion pieces per hour of "structured" information, such as databases, and one million pieces per hour of "unstructured" information, such as intelligence reports, emails or news articles.

The program had been quietly suspended in the spring due to privacy concerns, after reports surfaced that real personal data, rather than dummy information, had been used in the testing process. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted at the time that "the ADVISE tool could misidentify or erroneously associate an individual with undesirable activity such as fraud, crime or terrorism."

The program would have provided information to a slew of DHS agencies, including immigration, customs, border protection, biological defense and its intelligence office. The program had been temporarily halted to allow the DHS to develop stronger privacy protections for controversial program. DHS has apparently thrown in the towel on this one.

According to DHS spokesman Russ Knocke, "ADVISE is not expected to be restarted."

The report on the program completed in June by the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) seems to have been the nail in the coffin for this particular domestic intelligence operation. The report criticized the operation for failing to provide required privacy protections, as well as for failing to take into account the needs of the DHS "components" that ultimately would be expected to pay for the program. The DHS's own Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA) rejected the program in its entirety.

The DHS was cobbled together out of a variety of occasionally competing government agencies back in 2002, and the OIG report says as much about bureaucratic turf war and chaotic, failed attempts to run the government like a business as it does about the privacy implications of government data-mining. About $42m has been invested on a program that, through a combination of communication weakness and bureaucratic infighting, at times failed to obtain necessary information from the agencies or DHS "components" that were supposed to be the ultimate "customers".

The establishment of the DHS was intended to eliminate this kind of infighting, but old habits die hard. The appropriation of business terminology provides sadly comical insight into more general failings at the DHS, as its vast and ill-defined mandate led to generally confused interactions between its myriad agencies,"components" and leadership. The DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), which had the reins on this project, never developed the required "business plan," and repeatedly failed to consult with "stakeholders" and "customers" - i.e., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the OIA, and the Customs and Border Protection Office of Strategic Trade.

Most people, of course, just want their government to work, and don't concern themselves with the minutiae of Washington politics. Mass data-mining of the type that derailed the Total Information Awareness (TIA) initiative is more unnerving than petty infighting - the behavioral algorithms pioneered by credit rating agencies, based as they are on probabilities, lead to false positives on a regular basis and touch on constitutionally protected liberties.

The root of the dilemma is that effective data-mining requires the kind of mass data aggregation that ultimately and inevitably erodes human dignity and privacy.

Although the software program at the lab has been shelved, the Knocke noted that S&T had "determined that new commercial products now offer similar functionality while costing significantly less to maintain than ADVISE." Parts of the TIA continued, of course, under other names.

Mass government data-mining is most assuredly here to stay.®

Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office


Other stories you might like

  • LGBTQ+ folks warned of dating app extortion scams
    Uncle Sam tells of crooks exploiting Pride Month

    The FTC is warning members of the LGBTQ+ community about online extortion via dating apps such as Grindr and Feeld.

    According to the American watchdog, a common scam involves a fraudster posing as a potential romantic partner on one of the apps. The cybercriminal sends explicit of a stranger photos while posing as them, and asks for similar ones in return from the mark. If the victim sends photos, the extortionist demands a payment – usually in the form of gift cards – or threatens to share the photos on the chat to the victim's family members, friends, or employer.

    Such sextortion scams have been going on for years in one form or another, even attempting to hit Reg hacks, and has led to suicides.

    Continue reading
  • 5G C-band rollout at US airports slowed over radio altimeter safety fears
    Well, they did say from July, now they really mean from July 2023

    America's aviation watchdog has said the rollout of 5G C-band coverage near US airports won't fully start until next year, delaying some travelers' access to better cellular broadband at crowded terminals.

    Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement this month that its discussions with wireless carriers "have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely co-exist."

    5G C-band operates between 3.7-3.98GHz, near the 4.2-4.4GHz band used by radio altimeters that are jolly useful for landing planes in limited visibility. There is or was a fear that these cellular signals, such as from cell towers close to airports, could bleed into the frequencies used by aircraft and cause radio altimeters to display an incorrect reading. C-band technology, which promises faster mobile broadband, was supposed to roll out nationwide on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile US's networks, but some deployments have been paused near airports due to these concerns. 

    Continue reading
  • IBM settles age discrimination case that sought top execs' emails
    Just days after being ordered to provide messages, Big Blue opts out of public trial

    Less than a week after IBM was ordered in an age discrimination lawsuit to produce internal emails in which its former CEO and former SVP of human resources discuss reducing the number of older workers, the IT giant chose to settle the case for an undisclosed sum rather than proceed to trial next month.

    The order, issued on June 9, in Schenfeld v. IBM, describes Exhibit 10, which "contains emails that discuss the effort taken by IBM to increase the number of 'millennial' employees."

    Plaintiff Eugene Schenfeld, who worked as an IBM research scientist when current CEO Arvind Krishna ran IBM's research group, sued IBM for age discrimination in November, 2018. His claim is one of many that followed a March 2018 report by ProPublica and Mother Jones about a concerted effort to de-age IBM and a 2020 finding by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that IBM executives had directed managers to get rid of older workers to make room for younger ones.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022