Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On enemies of the state

Okay, so so here's your assigned reading for the week. Why, you ask? Why not?
A consortium of major universities, using Homeland Security Department money, is developing software that would let the government monitor negative opinions of the United States or its leaders in newspapers and other publications overseas.

Such a “sentiment analysis” is intended to identify potential threats to the nation, security officials said.


The new software would allow much more rapid and comprehensive monitoring of the global news media, as the Homeland Security Department and, perhaps, intelligence agencies look “to identify common patterns from numerous sources of information which might be indicative of potential threats to the nation,” a statement by the department said.


The approach, called natural language processing, has been under development for decades. It is widely used to summarize basic facts in a text or to create abridged versions of articles.

But interpreting and rating expressions of opinion, without making too many errors, has been much more challenging, said Professor Cardie and Janyce M. Wiebe, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Pittsburgh. Their system would include a confidence rating for each “opinion” that it evaluates and would allow an official to refer quickly to the actual text that the computer indicates contains an intense anti-American statement.

Ultimately, the government could in a semiautomated way track a statement by specific individuals abroad or track reports by particular foreign news outlets or journalists, rating comments about American policies or officials.

And the fact that current federal law prohibits Homeland Security from keeping such a database on American citizens? Only vaguely comforting. I mean, we know how much respect the administration has for established law and individual rights.
Are you guilty?' said Winston.

'Of course I'm guilty!' cried Parsons with a servile glance at the telescreen. 'You don't think the Party would arrest an innocent man, do you?' His frog-like face grew calmer, and even took on a slightly sanctimonious expression. 'Thoughtcrime is a dreadful thing, old man,' he said sententiously. 'It's insidious. It can get hold of you without your even knowing it. Do you know how it got hold of me? In my sleep! Yes, that's a fact. There I was, working away, trying to do my bit -- never knew I had any bad stuff in my mind at all. And then I started talking in my sleep. Do you know what they heard me saying?'

He sank his voice, like someone who is obliged for medical reasons to utter an obscenity.

"Down with Big Brother!" Yes, I said that! Said it over and over again, it seems. Between you and me, old man, I'm glad they got me before it went any further. Do you know what I'm going to say to them when I go up before the tribunal? "Thank you," I'm going to say, "thank you for saving me before it was too late."

- George Orwell, 1984

(H/T TBogg)

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