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Money will go to research, domestic surveillance agencies (NSA, DHS), and emergency responder programs

Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was on hand last Thursday to kick off the administration's "big data" push.  The Obama administration plans to allocate $200M USD in funds from the federal budget towards improving data mining by various federal agencies.

I. On the Hunt of Big Data

Dr. Holdren describes, "In the same way that past Federal investments in information-technology R&D led to dramatic advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet, the initiative we are launching today promises to transform our ability to use Big Data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education, and national security."

The new push is dubbed the "The Big Data Research and Development Initiative" and it aims to mine useful information out of complex, rich data sets.

Data Mining

Projects include [PDF]:
  • A National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) project to mine imaging, molecular, cellular, electrophysiological, chemical, behavioral, epidemiological, clinical, and other data sets related to health and disease.  This project aims to extract "useful information" and create visualizations of the mined data.
  • Funding aid for the 1000 Genomes Project Data, which is hosting 200 TB of freely available genetic information on, Inc.'s (AMZN) Amazon Web Services (AWS).
  • "Earthcube", a site sponsored by the NSF and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), aimed at sharing climate change information and other "Earth system science" data sets between researchers in a transparent manner.
  • The XDATA project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which aims to dissect "text documents, message traffic", as well as semi-structured data.
  • A Department of Defense (DOD) project also funded by a $250M USD DOD budget allocation, which aims to use data mining to improve deployed soldiers' situational awareness. (It sounds like this involves reading foreign language newspapers, bulletins, etc. and extracting useful information.)
  • A new supercomputing insitute, dubbed the Scalable Data Management, Analysis and Visualization (SDAV) Institute, whose focus will be on scientific data mining.  The SDAV will be a joint project between the national labs, led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
II. But What About Domestic Spying?

Throughout the press release there's nary a mention of "national security" (outside a traditional military context) data mining programs.  However, past releases from the Obama administration have hinted at domestic surveillance data mining efforts with Orwellian names such as the U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA) "Perfect Citizen" program.

Digging into the associated longer in-depth fact sheet, however, it is revealed that the NSA will be obtaining funding for deep data mining projects, as will the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  

The NSA mentions it will use (part) of its funding for a contest called "Vigilent Net", which will encourage private sector partners to work together in a cohesive government-aided network against (presumably) foreign threats.  The DHS effort is listed as a partnership with Rutgers University, Purdue University, and three other institutions to use data mining to "address issues ranging from manmade or natural disasters to terrorist incidents; law enforcement to border security concerns; and explosives to cyber threats."

Watchful eye
[Image Source: Alex's Archives]

Some fear that such efforts are increasingly working to comb through volumes of U.S. citizens' email, text messages, and internet posting traffic, in a warrantless effort to monitor them.  At this point information on such programs' state of completion is largely annecdotal, but it seems unlikely that they have reached a very high level of sophistication, given the federal government's general security incompetence.

For better (research) or worse (domestic surveillance) data mining looks to be a tool increasing used by the federal government and federally-funded reserachers in the years ahead, and the Obama administration's recent spending commitments have reflected that.

Interestingly the Obama administration has backed efforts to limit for-profit data mining by the private sector and create opt outs.

Sources: White House [1], [2; PDF], [3; PDF]

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Communications monitoring
By Trisped on 4/2/2012 4:12:25 PM , Rating: 2
Some fear that such efforts are increasingly working to comb through volumes of U.S. citizens' email, text messages, and internet posting traffic, in a warrantless effort to monitor them.
While intercepting private, point to point communications (email, text messages) or private information (private blog posts) should require a warrant, farming public information, like a public Facebook page should not.

Of course this means a terrorist could start a private profile on Facebook and use it to plan terrorist activities and no one would be the wiser.

By OneArmedScissorB on 4/2/2012 5:09:53 PM , Rating: 2
Of course this means a terrorist could start a private profile on Facebook and use it to plan terrorist activities and no one would be the wiser.

But did you know that they could even think privately, and we'd be none the wiser?

Better give up even more rights and spend even more money! The terrorists might win!


RE: Communications monitoring
By Reclaimer77 on 4/2/2012 5:22:24 PM , Rating: 1
farming public information, like a public Facebook page should not.

I know what you're saying in that this is public information. Fine okay, let's sidestep that for the moment.

Just because it's "public", does that really mean our money should go to the farming of it? Does the US government have the right? We don't even have the money to be doing this.

This is simply the worst Administration of all time. Cut nothing, increase spending to infinity, trample more rights and privacy.

And this is a President and Administration who slammed Bush on wiretapping. At least that only applied if you were making an oversees call to possible terrorist states. Something the huge majority of this country never does. Obama wants the Government to literally intercept EVERYTHING the citizens of this country are doing and saying electronically.

RE: Communications monitoring
By RedemptionAD on 4/2/2012 7:14:27 PM , Rating: 2
Anyone else realize that this overmonitoring of information is a case where the government has TMI, making their information just as useless as having none at all. The computerized filtering just add more and more flags which will have soo many false postives, like a crappy anitvirus software, that it will render most actual policing of actual terrorist or otherwise threats impossable? Either way, the same flags they use to find threats can be used to steer them to wherever an intelligent person wants.

RE: Communications monitoring
By bah12 on 4/3/2012 10:03:27 AM , Rating: 2
Your right because if I search hippo on google I get nothing useful about hippos right? Google only successfully datamines the entire internet, to return useful information on hippos.


Sarcism aside, algorithms get smarter with time. It may be TMI, and too many false positives at first, but it is in those false positives that a better more accurate algorithm is refined.

Now to the subject at hand...F'em they have enough tools already, use the money for something useful.

RE: Communications monitoring
By Proxicon on 4/5/2012 10:44:53 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. Some people are just too enamored with our President. I can't believe they are actually trying to rationalize our spending on this. I heard the White House has a big propaganda dept in the basement. Maybe those people defending this is a part of it?

Spending spree?
By Boingo Twang on 4/2/2012 4:52:30 PM , Rating: 2
So now $200 million at the federal level is a "spending spree"? That's probably like the fuel costs for a day of the Iraqi War. I guess if "Obama did it" though it must be by nature a hugely wasteful spending spree.

RE: Spending spree?
By geekfool on 4/2/2012 5:58:36 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. $200 million is approximately $1 per taxpayer. It's essentially nothing, as far as the federal budget is concerned. If you want to talk about excessive government waste and "spending sprees" then look no further than the military/defense budget.

RE: Spending spree?
By RedemptionAD on 4/2/2012 7:08:39 PM , Rating: 2
Let's all be honest, if it was one $200M spending spree that is fine. The issue is that the thousands of these kinds of things adds up to alot. Essentially nickel and dimeing our $$$ into the national government debt, and inflation screwing everyone over. It isn't just Obama or Bush, it seems to have been a long standing policy of government, that any politician seems to have been in a kind of fear to buck the trend. The country has not been debt free for 110 years.

RE: Spending spree?
By bobsmith1492 on 4/3/2012 12:52:58 PM , Rating: 2
$200 million here, $200 million there, pretty soon we're talking about real money!

Whoo hoo...wait... what?
By The Raven on 4/2/2012 1:55:09 PM , Rating: 3
Money will go to research, domestic surveillance agencies (NSA, DHS)

Aww...I thought it said...
Money will go to research domestic surveillance agencies (NSA, DHS)

RE: Whoo hoo...wait... what?
By dgingerich on 4/2/2012 3:46:32 PM , Rating: 2
So you'd rather have them research the domestic surveillance agencies than have the research and domestic surveillance agencies get more money? I can understand that.

RE: Whoo hoo...wait... what?
By The Raven on 4/6/2012 2:30:12 AM , Rating: 2
Let's be clear here...I want money to go researching possibly useless agencies (e.g. domestic surveillance agencies) which could eliminate them entirely and then that money saved goes to science/taxpayer.

By shmmy on 4/2/2012 6:36:36 PM , Rating: 1
I am getting kinda sick of this websites anti Obama bull$hit. Save it for "fox news".

200 million is probably less then they spend on paint for Navy ships, get over it. Move on. Find real stories to report on and stop feeding into Jerry Springer watching idiots. (not just this story but other stories from this site recently)

I am pretty sure that this sight has few readers that are multi-millionaires. So who are your reporting to?

The anti-government anti tax crowd is for the rich, who want to pay no tax on the pile of money they have made then donate some of it (in many cases donate more then they actually spend in taxes) to the party who keeps their taxes low. While the middle class struggles to pay basic bills and fall into poverty from the inflation rate because of stagnant wages. Any economist with half a brain knows its the middle class who makes the economy, not rich people.

By Samus on 4/3/2012 3:00:21 AM , Rating: 2 is this any different than the last two administrations? Most of this is already law, some decades old, that are simply being amended to keep pace with modern methods of communications.

If anyone wants to post their life story in the public domain, the government has a right to read it, too.

If you're making a drug deal on your private cell phone or through email, that has, and still does, require a wire warrant.

By mon351 on 4/2/2012 8:43:46 PM , Rating: 2
Private sector organizations around the world are leveraging big data analytics to gain more insights from their data, and I am thrilled to see this initiative coming from the U.S. government. This is a huge step for the public sector that will bring about enormous benefits for government organizations and taxpayers. By better understanding how to apply resources against needs, government agencies can operate more efficiently and effectively. For instance, the State of Michigan is already seeing about $1 million in savings every day through the use of big data analytics! In a time when budgets are tight and government entities are forced to do more with less, big data analytics can help to cut costs and use resources more efficiently.

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs

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