WASHINGTON -- President George Bush's plan for a massive antiterrorism database center, announced in his state of the union address last week, could be up and running within months from a technology standpoint, if the Bush administration chooses to move that fast, but harder to overcome will be privacy concerns of a non-technical nature, experts said.
Allen Shay, president and chief operating officer of NCR Government Systems' Teradata Division, said the U.S. government could quickly put in place the first phase of a terrorist-tracking data-mining system by using commercial data-mining software already available.
"They'll take the first, let's say, 15 or 20 databases that are most critical and put an initial system capability in place, and that can be done in a matter of a few months, rather than years," Shay said. "What the government's trying to do now is something that the commercial world has been forced into years ago. It's not only do-able; it's been done by commercial companies for the last 10 plus years."
Other data-mining experts recommend a system built from the ground up, which would take a year or longer. No matter what the launch date and what technologies are used, the Bush plan is already attracting opposition from privacy groups, and could run into congressional roadblocks, even though the new proposal seems to be a less ambitious data-mining effort than one being researched at the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
Bush on Jan. 28 proposed a
Little information on the center is available, except for an eight-paragraph fact sheet at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/01/20030128-12.html. The CIA, which will run the center, has little to say about it so far. No information is available about a launch date or the technologies the center will use, said a CIA spokesman.
"Right now, everything is under discussion," the spokesman added.
The center's data-mining component, however, seems to be focused on pulling information together only from government databases. In that sense, Bush's proposal may be different from the Total Information Awareness (TIA) research project at the DoD, which privacy advocates and some lawmakers have attacked for its goal of hunting through private databases as well. The TIA program also has attracted criticism because of its leader, Admiral John Poindexter, a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal during President Ronald Reagan's administration in the late 1980s.
The Bush plan seems to be a new twist on the old bait-and-switch sales tactic, said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.