An open letter to John Soat.

After reading InformationWeek’s June 18th edition, I emailed the following to John Soat in response to his “Google Vs. The FBI” article.

Dear Mr Soat.

I read your column in InformationWeek (June 18th) on the data collection done by Google and the FBI.
I particularly noted your opinion on the value of the FBI’s data mining:

“I guess I should be concerned about the FBI’s data accumulation plans. I might console myself with the idea that the FBI will never get its huge data mining operation built… But the fact is, I want the FBI to succeed. I believe in what the FBI is doing. If a mammoth data mining operation is what it takes to stop domestic terror attacks, I’m all for it. How can I help?”

Although I understand and agree with most Americans that the concept of innocent civilians dying in events such as the attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11 are horrific, I don’t follow the logic in your paragraph.

How does the FBI plan to identify “terrorist subjects” from this massive database of information? Do you truly believe that they will come up with a great way to accurately pinpoint true terrorists? That is definitely not what their track record indicates. Rather, it sounds like the American nation will go even further in alienating Muslims, immigrants and people from the Middle East. Is intruding on every American’s privacy really supposed to be able to identify terrorist suspects? The concept of “identifying” these people have always been left incredibly fuzzy, much worse that most of Google’s ideas of “data collection”, that I can hardly jump up to support the FBI through algorithms that they hardly mention.

How will a mammoth data mining operation stop terrorist attacks if the American nation keeps on violating the basic human rights of millions of people, both abroad and domestic? Do you truly support the organization that tortures innocent civilians in an operation to find out even more about each person in America? How do you plan to have America remain a player in today’s global economy by supporting the alienation of its people, and the building of walls to keep people out?

I cannot support the FBI’s concepts of “gathering information” while we as a country cause more reason for terrorist attacks every day we violate the basic rights of the people we are at war with.

I ask you to please reconsider your stance towards this matter. I have little power as an individual civilian and student. As a columnist, your opinions reach and influence thousands of people. Will you not put your power towards justice rather than creating a police state?

Yours sincerely

Niels Joubert
UC Berkeley


  1. weatherguy says:

    I assert that there is monumental evidence indicating: “Anyone with the ongoing ability to abuse the power they have means that eventually they will do so.” It was ever thus.

    We have had police breaking into the wrong house (bad data). Police shooting people who had only a candy bar for a weapon(bad judgment).

    What has happened is that new technology—huge electronic databases—has made it incredibly easy to gather data on anyone. Further, the tools are, at the present, apparently, very blunt instruments.

    When Sgt. Friday wanted data he had to work mighty hard to get the data he wanted and needed to make an arrest. These days all it takes is a call to AT&T, or for the FBI a secret “National Security Letter”.

    I want to data mine. I can afford to data mine. I have a viable business model based in large part on data mining. Am I trustworthy? I can tell you this—I have thought of ways to use the data mining tools available—and legal—to non-legal ends.

    What has to happen is for standards to be set up which will define what, when, and how much data mining I can do. Read new law here.

    As much as it bugs me to have another government intrusion into my life—I’m trustworthy after all—there are lots of people who will not stop (FBI, CIA, DIA local police, my local school district) until there is a law and the balance of powers is set right again. It will be a difficult law to enforce. It will require large scale data mining to uncover entities that are illegally using data mining to nefarious ends.

    Oh, well, it was a good thought.

  2. Deanne says:

    This is great info to know.