My last column addressed some of the fallacies about using data mining to find terrorists. This column will look further at certain misconceptions about data analysis and data mining, and how those technologies can be effective tools for investigators.
It was recently reported that a few days after the September 11 attacks, FBI agents visited one of the largest providers of consumer data. They did so to see if the 9/11 terrorists were in the database and quickly found five of them. One of the terrorists had been in the country for less than two years, had 30 credit cards and a quarter million dollars' debt with a payment schedule of $9,800 per month. Mohammed Atta, the ringleader, had also been here less than two years and had 12 addresses under the names Mohammed Atta, Mohammed J. Atta, J. Atta and others. Surely, their report speculated, with patterns like this, we can use the databases we presently have to ferret out terrorists in our midst. Unfortunately, the answer is, "It depends."
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