Data Mining Watch Dogs

In a house filled with teenagers, the Constitutional right to privacy need not apply. I confess I am among the many parents with computer software monitoring my teen's Internet chats. Besides protecting her safety, this spy technology keeps me one step ahead of her. I literally know when she's up to no good because it shows on my computer screen.

Whether patrolling a teen or patrolling the streets, it's safe to say a little data mining goes a long way. The benefits of data mining to uncover criminal activity cannot be underestimated. It aids law enforcement in detecting patterns of criminal behavior and solving crimes.

But in the United States, privacy is a right not a preference. Civil libertarians fear law enforcement agencies fishing for patterns of criminal or terrorist activity in the digital data sea may infringe on citizens' Constitutional rights.

The U.S. Senate is weighing the merits of the proposed Federal Agency Data Mining Act of 2007, which calls for greater oversight of data mining programs being employed by federal law enforcers in the name of homeland security. The proposed bill would require all federal agencies to report to Congress within 180 days and every year thereafter on data mining programs developed or used to find crime patterns or anomalies.

Such safety measures might be a logical choice. But what if this administration does not proceed in a timely fashion? Useful data mining tools may become tangled in bureaucratic red tape and remain unused pending government approval.

This could spell disaster for law enforcement agencies already lagging behind private industry in navigating the stormy information seas.

Might such a law put law enforcers behind the eight ball, where the local department store has more access to information than the police department?

Which is more important?