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join the discussion: What are your thoughts on this report about the clash between the post-9/11 prevention paradigm and privacy protections?  Where would you draw the line?


Interesting story and comments. The argument was a little one sided, but it does bring up a good topic.

Personally, I think people are afraid of "data mining" because they don't know what it is. I'm not convinced that many of the politicians debating this issue are technologically educated enough to understand and form educated decisions about this. Many people make it sound like some sort of black magic.

I work in data mining. It's not like the government is listening in on all of these phone calls or reading all of these emails. The whole reason for mining the data is to find the anomalies, or the things that give rise to suspicion, not to manually eye ball every communication or data transaction out there. It is not a "consider everyone a suspect" approach. I find it to be just the opposite. Consider everyone innocent; now, use technology and logic to find those that may need some further investigation. Are there a few in the piles of data that need some review or consideration? I don't think they would go and arrest somebody because they looked suspicious based on mining the data, but it might give reason to now go and see if he/she poses a potential threat.

I expect my government to be doing this to protect me and my family. This type of technology is available and can certainly be used against us. I hear a lot of people complaining about the government having access to this data, but they don't realize they give up there personal information everywhere...at the grocery store, hotel, dentists office, airport, gas station, paying your water bill, and shopping on line. These companies use this information and target you for advertisements. That's why you get that wonderful spam mail and email. Your data is also being sold by those very companies. Some complain because the government is doing what ever they can to protect our lives, but they don't care that their personal information is being sold by the magazine company, sold and distributed several times more, not kept very secure, and could result in identity theft. The wide access and distribution of my data in the public sector is far more threatening to my safety than the government mining phone calls to stop terrorists.

Checks and balances are important, and government does not need to be everywhere doing everything. However, it seems silly to always accuse them of foul play when it is not deserved. It's also silly to not arm our government with methods to protect our safety.

Gilbert, Arizona


A note for you and your viewers:

... I believe, in this time of war, all citizens should proclaim the following to their country: Normally, the government has no business in my private life. However, because there are certain people who would destroy myself and my neighbors due to their ignorance, and because these people have perpetrated real acts of war against us, I willfully give my federal government access to my communications data such that the government may determine dangers to our society via whatever data-manipulation method they may determine. I further trust that, should the data I have supplied cause suspicion of my person or those of special concern to me, that people with reasonable perspective and judgment will become involved such that the data will not solely cause determination of guilt. Instead, people with objective and fair judgment (as in a jury) rather than the data will be the final say on guilt or innocence regarding any specific charge. ...

I give permission to my data willingly as a citizen of the United States, as a citizen "soldier", in the full knowledge that I may be sacrificed in the fight against terrorism and in the hopes to aid the general fight against those who would harm myself or my fellow citizens.

Yours sincerely,

austin, tx


It appears that the Democrat Party will regain the Whitehouse in part because of your bias reporting. We will then get a chance to go back to the lack of intelligence that brought on 9/11/01. I hope in 2010 Frontline will do a report on the terrorist attacks that have taken place since January 09.

Timothy Cavanaugh
Moses Lake, WA


I have two comments for Mike Dyer and others who think that the government is only looking for bad guys so if you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear.

Don't be so naive! Even with the best of intentions the government makes mistakes and when we're talking about millions of bits of data about millions of people mistakes are inevitable. Lots of mistakes. Lots of lives. That's why there are checks and balances and limits to gov't power.

As for being a traitor for disagreeing with the govenment ask yourself, "What is it that Al Qaeda hates about the "West?" It's that we allow freedom of opinion (as well as allowing the freedom of many other things not least of which is freedom of religion.) They don't. There are limits to what the US government can do to its citizens. When Al Qaeda and the Taliban are in charge there are no limits to what they can do. That's why I don't like them and will fight tooth and nail so they never get control over my country-or anyone else's for that matter.

If we stand for freedom over seas then we have to stand for it at home. I am a Navy wife. I'm not a traitor. When I don't agree with my government I say so because I think not only is it my right but as a citizen it is my duty.

Naples, Italy


After watching your excellent presentation on domestic spying I must say that considering how much 9/11 has changed the world, perhaps we need another amendment to the Constitution to narrow the provisions of the Fourth Amendment.

The vast law enforcement resources and technology needed to fight a constant global terrorism threat appears dauntless, therefore a new amendment seems in order.

James Stellhorn
Scottsdale, AZ


Thank you for the wonderful program!!! You are the best show on television. Tonight's program was especially good.

There were many unsettling portions of tonight's episode. John Yoo, in particular, was distasteful.

The most disturbing part, though, was the following quote by Robert Popp, former deputy of DARPA. He says in an interview, explaining the logic behind predictive data mining programs like TIA , that

"if one could imagine that we had an eye in the sky, and we could truly get all the transactions, all the things that that group did to conduct that plot, to conduct that attack... our thesis is that that set of transactions over space, over time, and by some number of people will be a unique signature."

What bothers me so much about this quote is his use of the word signature. Presumably, he intends the word to mean a unique identification, like a thumbprint, that only one individual can produce. Also, I believe the action of signing is important to his word choice. As in, a signature is occurring which can be predicted by the second letter and properly identified before its completion.

His use of the word signature is particularly disturbing, however, because, on top of all his intended meanings, Popp is also implicitly articulating the agency's desire to translate all physical actions into a codified linguistic system. This database of actions--which they presumably define laterally like words in a thesaurus-- will then be mapped onto future physical actions as, one must assume, a justifiable means of taking legal action. Thus they might conceivably arrest you because of the occurrence of Actions A, B and C, which according to their database, also signify Future Action D, a punishable offense, which is one that, although you haven't yet committed, you certainly will. By definition. Not only does this clearly reveal the agency's intention to strip the individual of legal autonomy, it also exposes its complete disregard for the notion of individual autonomy. Period. And, what's more disturbing still, is that Popp uses the word signature to make this argument, and in doing so, unknowingly inverts the historic sense of the word -- signature-- the name of a person written with his or her own hand as an authentication of a legal document presented by that person to the Baron of Exchequer.

Matt Kessler
Champaign, Illinois


The program was very interesting. The thing I found missing from the criticism was suggestions as to where to draw boundarys for surveillance.

I see very little difference in what our government is doing now and what local and state agencies do when they set up roadblocks for sobriety checks. Innocent as well as guilty are pulled over and checked. This invasion of privacy saves many lives every year. Should this be stopped because innocent people are inconvenienced as well? Freedom is not free and privacy comes with a price as well.

Tom Adams
Millington, Tn


I'd like to preface my comments by saying that I not a supporter of George Bush, or his war. In fact, until the day comes when the Republican party doesn't march in lockstep in voting in Congress, I will never consider voting for one of those SOB's. I say this because I'm going to object the way facts were presented in this program. I don't like spin from any source.In "Spying on the Home Front", I think you reinforced a wrong impression about technology, and failed to assess the real risk to our freedom.There exists in our society a misunderstanding about the power of technology. I have worked in computers and networking for twenty years. This business consists of hardware, software, and people. The hardware and software is not as good as Hollywood would have us believe. Everyone can see this in everyday life. The best computing companies in the world still produce products that are difficult to use, and which have limits that are easily found by a user of moderate experience. Introduce people, and the special kind of incompetence built into our government at every level, into the mix and technology start not to work together. Do you understand what it means to have the dozens of databases mentioned in this Frontline program in a government organization? How well do you think those databases can interrelate? I can tell you from experience: poorly. They will have been developed on different hardware platforms, with different software, and by different programmers with different goals. In government, even the process of setting goals for the development of databases tends to create junk that nobody wants to use. Let's say the President mandated a super-database capable of violating our 4th amendment rights, or mandated the coordination of multiple databases. The setting of goals for either task would be so political, at every level, that I don't believe a useful set of goals could result. Without a clear set of goals, any software development product is doomed to failure (read your Dilbert). There are no superhuman computer geniuses in existence that can solve these problems. Only a very good leader, running a very good organization, would even stand a chance. Do you think that our current government is well-run?Enough, now, of my quibbling about technology and it's management. Here's why I think you missed the crux of the risk we're all exposed to now, to the point of following the horse out of the barn and closing the door:The government asserts that in a new and dangerous wartime, the laws that protect us must be violated for our protection. The tools they use are the tools of tyrants. Misuse of those tools would be tyranny. While the tools themselves are far from perfect, they could be used to create the kind of fear that would stifle dissent and free speech. Historically, whipping up fervor for war in this country hasn't been that hard, and it seems to me that at this time it's never been easier - we seem to be a nation of people who can't recognize their own self-interests. So what's to prevent a would-be tyrant from finding ways to keep us in a perpetual state of war, to perpetuate the interests of those who keep him in power?Even now, we're slipping into a kind of facism. The rights of the individual in the marketplace are being wholesaled to corporate interests, and have been for eight years. The kind of power that engenders would find comfort in the idea of dictatorship. Look at South American "democracy" - that could be us one day.

Brian Donohue
Bellevue, WA


Thank you for touching such an extremely important subject. I only caught the ending part of the program, but like the other (very) few programs speaking of such, I still feel that the most important points are yet being ignored, or not defined:

1 - Our freedoms have been gradually eroding before the whole "War on Terrorism" subject, and in many people's opinions, we already have gone way too far. Yet, the numerous small attacks on our liberties have been small enough to make people complacent to allowing our liberties to fade, such that it takes major attacks like the War on Terrorism to get most people to even blink anymore.

2 - The War on Terrorism is too broad in definition. Namely, the term "Terrorist" is so fuzzy already that it can be easily manipulated to include anybody; I can envision a day very soon where anyone who refuses to give their gun up in the name of "national safety" could be branded a terrorist, and their fragile liberties totally dissolve.

3 - The War on Terrorism will never be able to be declared complete. As long as there is a difference of opinion with the US Government on anything, and someone is willing to stand up against the US, then they will be branded a Terrorist, and the "War" will go on. Short of total attrition or total world domination and the institutionalized brainwashing of every inhabitant on the Earth, the condition where this could be declared no longer a threat will never occur (and in such a situation, our liberty will be so far in the past that there will be no ability to stop a government).

4 - A "terrorist" is by definition one who tries to enforce their will on others through fear, hence "terror." By that definition, the US Government trying to combat Terrorism has itself become a Terrorist. Watch any fictitious TV program where they deal with "terrorists" and you can see how bad this has already gotten... I can't watch "24" or "NCIS" or "Chuck" (on 3 different TV networks) without seeing people happy to lord this concept over their enemies. "All I have to do is say the word 'terrorist' and you're on a plane to Guantanamo Bay, and you have no rights." - Mark Harmon's character on NCIS in one episode

5 - Our country's own actions are exactly what has spawned most "terrorists" that are against us. Let me explain: Classically, a terrorist organization is a group or country who sees themselves being wronged by a larger government/country, and whose grievances are being totally dismissed or squelched by that government, and hence their only action left is to use whatever means are at their disposal to make a physical strike against them. Well, our country has been sadly telling most "terrorists" out there that their viewpoints are completely baseless, hence we will ignore them totally. ...Which leads them to ending up unable to do anything to resist our overpowering influences other than to make a "terrorist" strike. However- I submit to you that there has been no public terrorist strike on the US yet. All strikes on our country have been valid military targets thus far: The USS Cole is a US Navy warship, the Pentagon is our military command center, and the World Bank (with major offices in the WTC) supplies funding to the US Government (military). Granted, if you listen to alternate news sources, there have been true terrorist attacks, such as missiles fired at commercial airliners, that haven't been made public; those are true terrorist acts. But as far as the general news reports, everything is fine. One dirty bomb, bio attack, or nuclear device on a city... That would be a true terrorist attack. But that hasn't happened yet.

The only way to be completely free of terrorism in truth is to actually negotiate with terrorists, meaning find our common ground and address their grievances with us. Then, they no longer have a reason to attack us, hence no terrorist attacks. This requires ruling with love and concern, not with fear and might. The sooner we actually deal with this major concept flaw, the better.

Meanwhile, we need to reverse a lot of the laws and programs that have already eroded away at our liberties. This includes minor things such as omnipresent speed limits (liberty / freedom of movement), Social Security Numbers / National ID Numbers and Credit Reports (privacy), destruction of Allodial Rights (property), mandatory innoculations and destruction of personal choice in regard to medical procedures (life), and so forth.

Colorado Springs, Colorado


"There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown."

Elias Canetti - Nobel Prize Winner

This story provoked a fear - a potential paralyzing fear of continuing to release any personal information. I am less concerned with the collection of data than I am with the people who may interpret and use it. We have too many circumstances outside the database world where untrained and overzealous men/women in positions of power have wreaked havoc on innocent people in the name of justice.

My sincere thanks for this eye opening piece of journalism.

Pittsburgh, PA


All that, and not one word about the threat itself!

One attack per year might justify such searches, or perhaps one a month. Certainly such limitless searches are not justified in "no attacks in 6 years" [since 9/11]. Is America so afraid as to need "nothing at all" to scare them into just giving up the other half of the "security VS civil rights" question into limitless searches [civil rights]?

Look at how much damage so many other nations constantly endure!

Blane Delgado
Nelson, B.C.


Thank you for the informative program on domestic spying. Perhaps a followup story should be done about how little Americans care about the infringement of our Fourth Amendment right. Without the TV image of FBI agents holding us at gun point handcuffed in our own living rooms, it is difficult for people to get upset about stolen zero's and one's, even if those digits are actually our phone conversations, text messages, e-mails, pictures, etc...

I think Americans should be alarmed. The thought that the government can be trusted to use the drift nets to target only terrorists and criminals is just as naive as thinking that the government officials are infallible and incorruptible and are incapable of mistakenly prosecute & persecute innocent individuals. I hope people have not forgotten that the so called intelligence that our government gathered was erroneously used to justify the war in Iraq.

Private companies that analyze our credit card transactions to discern spending habits do not have the power to arrest and jail you. This is a critical point that one of the attorneys interviewed in your program made.

Exactly how long does John Yoo and other neo-conservatives like him expect us to wait before the checks and balances created by the founding fathers are restored? It will never be possible to end "the war on terror," and therefore I am not quite ready to give up my Fourth Amendment right.

Jason Chang
Cleveland, OH


It is discouraging to read the comments here that are so negative about the coverage of this program. The comments illustrate how poorly Americans understand the place of this nation in history.

Civics taught early and often must be reinstated so that we all know that the job of the President is not "to protect the American people," but to uphold "protect and defend" the Constitution, which, if he does, will ensure not only physical protection but the protection of the rights that make the place unique in human experience and that obviously too many of us take for granted.

T Walsh
Silver Spring, Maryland


I just finished watching "Spying on the Homefront", which I found interesting and almost fair and balanced. There seemed to be much whining and protesting re the supposed intrusions into people's privacy in Las Vegas by our government agencies that are charged with protecting us. Luckily nothing happened.

Can you imagine the Monday morning quarterbacking your reporters would be doing if something did happen? e.g. "...7 years after 9/11, our government STILL can't protect us from 'known' terrorists..."

Some people are more afraid of our own government (who has sworn to protect us), rather than terrorists (who have repeatedly stated their intent to do us serious harm.

Pipersville, PA


This is typical fare for your show. If there was a terrorist attack wouldn't you be the first to ask what could of been done to prevent it? Frontline has thier own political agenda and it is clear to see even without spying.

I am glad to see this administration do what is needed in this dangerous time. If you have nothing to hide you shouldn't be offended. The conspiracy theroy plagued Left is looking for the black helicopters again.

Stand up Americans and Unite against the real enemy. Love your country and dont fear the goverment quite so much. If you feel your rights are being violated your'e free to reside in another country, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, China, N.Korea. Anyone of those will be fine. Americans wont miss you.

T Broockerd
Lone, MO


I have studied Computer Science for 6 years and worked in the IT industry for 3 years. In my 9 years of hammering away at keyboards, I have not come across a single piece of software that has been able to do a job that guarantees 100% reliability.

Therefore, I find it hard to believe that the US government would be able to mine through such a huge amount of data without a lot of false positives. So it is going to be quite challenging for them to invest so much money and resources into data mining, which in itself is a relatively young field. Also, I see it very immature in trying to find that elusive terrorist who could create havoc in the United States.

Cleveland, OH


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posted may. 15, 2007

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