Data mining has become one of the key features of many homeland security initiatives. Often used as a means for detecting fraud, assessing risk, and product retailing, data mining involves the use of data analysis tools to discover previously unknown, valid patterns and relationships in large data sets. In the context of homeland security, data mining can be a potential means to identify terrorist activities, such as money transfers and communications, and to identify and track individual terrorists themselves, such as through travel and immigration records.
While data mining represents a significant advance in the type of analytical tools currently available, there are limitations to its capability. One limitation is that although data mining can help reveal patterns and relationships, it does not tell the user the value or significance of these patterns. These types of determinations must be made by the user. A second limitation is that while data mining can identify connections between behaviors and/or variables, it does not necessarily identify a causal relationship. Successful data mining still requires skilled technical and analytical specialists who can structure the analysis and interpret the output.
As with other aspects of data mining, while technological capabilities are important, there are other implementation and oversight issues that can influence the success of a project's outcome. One issue is data quality, which refers to the accuracy and completeness of the data being analyzed. A second issue is the interoperability of the data mining software and databases being used by different agencies. A third issue is mission creep, or the use of data for purposes other than for which the data were originally collected. A fourth issue is privacy. Questions that may be considered include the degree to which government agencies should use and mix commercial data with government data, whether data sources are being used for purposes other than those for which they were originally designed, and possible application of the Privacy Act of 1974 to these initiatives. It is anticipated that congressional oversight of data mining projects will grow as data mining efforts continue to evolve.