The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: data mining (Page 1 of 3)

Security vs Privacy: The Dangers of too much Authority

Chapter four of Little Brother really made me mad due to the abuse of basic human rights the American government was willing to surpass in order to receive more legalized power. Expanding on this problem, I am going to address how the governments abuse of Marcus and other captives basic human rights directly relate to the government trying to get more legal power through the public's fear. When Marcus was captured, bagged, and brought to an interrogation facility, nicked named Gintmo-On-The-Bay, his fourth amendment right was violated. The fourth amendment states "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (Cornell Law School)." Marcus' personal digital activity and information was searched unreasonably, he was seized illegally, and he was forced to sign a paper saying he was voluntarily seized and interrogated which I would consider a violation of the fifth amendment which protects people from self incrimination. Because of the government trying to "secure" it violated peoples rights. The governments concern with security, in this case, was false making their actions even worse. The American government in Little Brother had a goal of taking advantage of a terrorist attack and blaming it on the lack of security. From there the government would expand on its power by persuading citizens to support laws that give the government more surveillance control over the citizens themselves. This is dangerous because as the government receives more surveillance power, it becomes easier to label a protester as terrorist. Once this happens, innocent people such as Marcus, will be captured and interrogated based on faulty information.

Protection from Unreasonable Search and Seizure

The Constitution of the United States of America exists to protect the citizens of this nation from the government. Indeed, the Fourth Amendment states that citizens shall not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures by the government without a warrant. Data mining on college campuses violates this Amendment and is clearly an illegal search. There are soldiers are fighting around the country as I write this, working to keep us safe and protect our liberties that are exclusively found in America. They aren't risking their lives so the government can have more control over the people, but rather to secure the liberties of every citizen. And while the argument is often made that these searches in the form of data mining are designed to keep us safe, in reality they invade our privacy and our rights.

In Michael Morris's essay entitled "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives," it is evident that Morris is in favor of mining student data. For instance, he says by utilizing data mining software, colleges "will surely come much closer to that goal" of preventing crime. Morris argues that due to the fact that there have been so many attacks on college campuses, we should do anything to protect students, even looking at their internet data. But without a 100% detection rate, innocent students will be undoubtedly be victimized by this software and labeled as potential attackers, even if they have done nothing wrong. This violates our right to due process and goes against everything that we stand for as a country.

For me, the argument of privacy vs. security can be a very personal one. Having a father who was in the Marines and countless friends who have served, I often think about young men and women risking their lives for our freedom. Sure we could strictly monitor everything that everyone does, but is that worth neglecting the very freedoms that we worked so hard to earn back in 1776 and defend every day? I do not believe it does. If we were to search everyone's house then we could find people making bombs before they used them, but first of all that isn't legal, and second of all that isn't the way that we want to live. In the argument of privacy vs. security, I strongly disagree with Morris's argument and firmly stand on the side of privacy and keeping our rights in tact.

Is Privacy Worth It?

“But if colleges use the crystal ball that's available to them, they will surely come much closer to that goal.”

Throughout the article, “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives,” Michael Morris, the author, made many arguments, but his central argument was that college campuses should in fact mine their students’ data. That is the “crystal ball” that he says is available to them while the “goal” he mentions is to stop large acts of campus violence.

Now Morris does in fact make the argument that mining students’ data could help college campuses prevent large acts of violence, but that is only meant to draw attention to the main issue which is the fact that many college campuses are actually reluctant to mine their students’ data for various reasons. That is where Morris makes his central argument being that college campuses should in fact mine their students’ data. He addresses the counter-argument that privacy is in question but rebuts it by explaining that college campuses use algorithms that only extract “usable” data. He addresses another counter-argument that mining students’ data may be  met with the backlash of a policy breach but rebuts it as well by explaining that the Department of Education revised the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (Ferpa) where colleges would have more access to the information of students who raise serious concern.

I, for one, agree with Morris’s argument. As he himself has already stated, we as a society have been waiving our online privacy for our increasing indulgence in online services over the past decade now, and we cannot simply just go back to the way things were. To me, it would be outrageous having to mourn the death of a fellow classmate while knowing it could have been prevented by the college campus. At some point we just have to take a deep breath and decide what is more important — making sure that my routine life as a college student is kept private or stopping the next “School-Shooting” headline.

Safety > Privacy

In "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives", Morris argues that mining data is basically a crystal ball into the future. Data mining will give the ability to notice and prevent potential threats to the campus and community around it. The example Morris uses is a school shooter. If a university can use data mining to monitor students' online behavior, then they can look for warning signs that people may display before they do something harmful to themselves and or others.

One study shows that between the years 2013 and 2015 there were 160 school shootings, with 47 percent of those taking place in a college or university (Everytown Research). Many of these could have been stopped with some preemptive data mining. Yes, it is true that every student has a right to privacy and their rights should be respected. However, the overall safety of the student body is much more important than the possibility of someone seeing your recent search history. Realistically, data mining will be much more helpful than hurtful. A school shooting is not likely to happen in your school. But what if it did? If data mining is allowed, then the likely hood of a shooting happening diminishes even more. The safety of students is a top priority among all universities. The use of data mining would not be a tool to invade a student's privacy, but rather a weapon to counteract horrendous acts.

Data Mining or Privacy Invasion?

In this essay, the author Micheal Morris argues that universities should have the ability to access students personal information, via data mining, in order to prevent violent actions from occurring such as school shootings. Personally I do not agree with Morris' argument. I think that if a university had the ability to look at personal files and data then it would be abused at some point. For example: if there is a professor who is not on good terms with one of their students and the professor uses data mining to find out the student has been talking badly about the professor through text or email, then that professor could give the student a bad grade even if their work is of A+ quality. Data mining could also be exploited through outside hackers. If there is a system that can gain access to a whole campus of students, then there are multiple people who can hack that system and gain the same access. This becomes very problematic considering what the hacker does with the information such as blackmailing or stalking. Another reason I do not agree with Morris is if the person evaluating the data mining algorithms misinterprets the meaning behind someones personal messages. Everyone gets extremely emotional and some people vent through the internet. Just because they are venting through the internet does not mean that they are an automatic threat to the university. I think that a person looking at this using data mining would not understand what level the venting is at and would look immediately towards the worse case scenario rather than looking at it as something basic. Though Morris does mention that no system can "100-percent effective, 100 percent of the time," I still think it is wrong for anyone to have that type of access to someones personal information regardless of the efficiency of a system.

Sacrificing Individuals' Privacy for Overall Safety?

By writing “because campuses can be prime targets for large-scale acts of violence, …the use of data-mining technology to prevent violence should begin there”, Morris proposes to mine student data, and to allow universities’ surveillance on students for campus security; he also has some good comments on today’s digital life that makes the university easier to keep an eye on students’ behavior. However, his discussion does not take many consequences and potential moral arguments into consideration, and is therefore fallacious.

When Morris says “it is a form of behavioral surveillance, and it can be used to predict, with amazing accuracy, the propensity for a person's future behavior”, I believe he is overconfident about how precise the data analysis could be with today’s technology and social studies on human behavior. The case mentioned by Morris in which mines customers’ search histories so that it can better learn about their interests is untenable. I once heard that someone purchased a wreath for a funeral on Taobao, a Chinese shopping website similar to eBay, and then in the next couple of days he continuously got whole pages of recommendations on things related to funerals, which seemed really creepy; nevertheless, Taobao assumed that he was interested in them, according to its “amazingly accurate” data analysis. It turns out that algorithms designed for analyzing electronic data can’t even accurately tell people’s interests from what they occasionally look for, how could it be used to identify potential violence and predict crimes on campus?  What happens if the data analysis wrongly convicts students of potential violence? Perhaps, as Morris writes, the campus “will surely come much closer to the goal” of crime prevention, but flagging an innocent student as a criminal is undoubtedly a terrible outcome that will compromise one’s life.

Additionally, it comes to a more complex moral question of individual sacrifice and overall well-being. If we can sacrifice individuals’ privacy, or even a small group of people’s innocence to prevent something very bad from happening and thus increase the safety of a significantly larger group of people, should we do it? While the answer to this question is likely to vary from person to person, my response is no. Overall security matters, but personal interests matter too. There must be a reconciliation between them; giving up one’s privacy is not a solution to this.

Though Morris’s article is not convincing enough, but it does remind us that with the increasing cases of campus violence, we must find out a way to appropriately use the technology to keep campus safety, while our privacy are protected as well.

Are You Going to Let Fear Infringe Upon Your Right to Privacy?

The idea of uncertainty has left people in a frenzy for ages. However, with the improvements seen in technology we have begun to uncover what had previously been unknown to us. Morris, in his essay "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives", highlights the ability to limit undetected campus violence through the use of data mining. As Universities already provide significant online resources, it would not be difficult for them to use software to single out erratic behavior among students. While Morris does acknowledge issues regarding the right to privacy, he firmly believes that data mining in college campuses is not significantly different than social media recognizing one's likes and dislikes. As a result, he supports the usage of data mining which he believes will aid in limiting the violence that occurs on college campuses and create a safer environment among students and faculty.

As Morris's concerns for the safety of college campuses prove to be a valid argument, this is an invasion of our privacy. Safety is and always will be a priority for our country but the fear of not knowing the future has led to significant infringements on our right to privacy. Now one might argue, have we ever even had the right to privacy? Even though it is assured in the Constitution, security always trumps privacy rights. America is known for its freedom- it's even recited in our Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis.  However, with the implementations of these safety precautions as recommended by Morris, this pledge loses its value.

Measures similar to data mining have already been enacted limiting the amount of privacy we have. Another software system would lower the little privacy or even eliminate the privacy which we believe we have left. Even though it will provide safer environments, it is already known that it cannot be expected to be completely accurate.  This just further proves that it just isn't worth it. We will never be able to predict what will certainly happen tomorrow, it just statistically is not possible. We need to learn how to live with this uncertainty if we want to salvage the little privacy we have left.


Crossing the Line?

In the article “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives” by Michael Morris, I believe Morris argues that in order to mitigate or even repel completely the threat of student violence, an option lies in “data mining”--the process of collecting massive amounts of data from students using their emails, computer use in the university, and other activities on the internet (Morris). At first I thought about the gains: safety for everyone. Then I thought about the repercussions a little more. While I agree that data mining could potentially save thousands of lives, currently it comes at too high of a cost of privacy to every single person and thus is too intrusive to all of our personal lives.

Data mining is already happening to everyone: Google analyzes what shopping sites you visit and places ads to remind you of that dress you really wanted from Nordstrom. Banks conclude that you can’t be in Indiana and Maine at the same time using the same credit card and so they decline further transactions. In these cases, one could argue that there is a point in using data mining: Google tracks shopping sites to allow greater marketing and sales, and you could say that it is one of the jobs of the bank to ensure the safety of your cards. But what about data mining text messages between your friends or siblings or significant other? Mining your social media sites to see who your friends are and your personal interests and your plans for the weekend?

This method of analyzing a student to see if s/he would become dangerous to a campus’s safety would appear to be a solution, but what if an individual is nothing as so simple as the student that Morris describes: a student with very obvious intentions to attack another person, as seen from his online browsing and social media activity? We must also take into consideration the fact that if a person was smart enough, s/he would attempt to cover his/her tracks as best as possible. Maybe this person doesn’t use social media platforms to let out their rage. Maybe this person doesn’t need a firearm to cause harm. 

In addition, think about the consequences if this information was compromised. This is the danger of providing mountains of personal information in the inter web or a database. It could cause more harm than good. Now it becomes easier for people to stalk you, to analyze your daily/weekly routine and follow you around without your knowledge. 

We must ask where is the line drawn between safety and security? At what cost does it come at? In the plot of “Little Brother” by Cody Doctorow, people with *just enough* evidence would be subject to intense and humiliating questioning, even though nothing they did was threatening the safety of their country. However in the eyes of the DHS, whatever they decided to be remotely suspicious was enough to constitute a potential threat. The character Marcus just happened to have an affinity for data encryption and hacking (maybe this itself was caused by the increase in ridiculously superfluous school security…and a push to make security tighter only exacerbated Marcus’s need to up his defenses).

People say that if you’re an honest and good person, you should have nothing to hide. But I believe that isn’t the problem in most cases. The problem occurs in feeling vulnerable, like you’re boxed in, with prying eyes above you watching like a hawk. Feeling like you’re controlled, like you can’t have individual freedom anymore because every step is monitored. For these reasons, I believe that we are just a little too far away from finding the perfect solution to keep everyone safe through the use of data mining.

Mining Student Data Poses More Threats Than it Resolves

In the article “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives” Michael Morris makes an interesting point about data mining on college campuses. According to Morris, since college students are already using accounts and internet access provided by the school, there is no reason that colleges should not be able to monitor student data for early warning signs of mental instability. Morris says “…the truth is that society has been systematically forfeiting its rights to online privacy over the past several years through the continued and increased use of services on the Internet” (Morris). That’s true. Between social media, google searches, and smart phones, most of our lives are now completely digital. That does not mean, however, that I agree with Morris’ sentiments regarding colleges data mining their students.

It all comes down to a basic question of security vs. privacy. How much of our privacy are we willing to give up in the interest of staying safe? The better question might be, how much of our privacy can we give up while still staying safe? Who is to say that the school officials monitoring the data would be completely aboveboard? I realize that college staff is usually very trustworthy, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Imagine what one corrupted school official could do with access to all of that data. Additionally, once those back channels are established, what is to prevent an accomplished hacker abusing them? Data mining may be to keep us “safe,” but it actually opens the door to a whole new set of problems that colleges may not be equipped to deal with.

It is also important to consider the consequences of false threats. If a school decides that a student’s activity is suspicious they would intervene. But then what if the school was wrong? For example, I have had some strange google search histories in the past. I have always wanted to write a murder mystery and I have researched various poisons to see they would work in my plot. It is likely that, should my college be monitoring my activity, that could be flagged as a dangerous. Even if my search histories were an exception to the rule, how would schools avoid adopting a “guilty until proven innocent” mentality in the interest of keeping everyone “safe?” Morris’ idea has good intentions, but ultimately results in more problems and potential security threats than it solves.

Morris, Michael. “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2 Oct. 2011,

Snooping- Socially Acceptable?

“When I opened up the issue of teachers looking at students’ Facebook profiles with fifteen-year-old Chantelle, she responded dismissively: “Why are they on my page? I wouldn’t go to my teacher’s page and look at their stuff, so why should they go on mine to look at my stuff?” She continued on to make it clear that she had nothing to hide while also reiterating the feeling that snooping teachers violated her sense of privacy. The issue for Chantelle—and many other teens—is more a matter of social norms and etiquette than technical access” (boyd, 58). This passage, taken from the book It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, describes an opinion common of many people of all ages- even if one has nothing to hide, privacy is still valued.

The idea that knowing that you’re being snooped on can make you feel like your privacy is being violated, even if you have absolutely nothing to hide, is a fundamental argument in the discussion of privacy matters, especially in modern society. This concept can be related to data mining, as it can be uncomfortable knowing that your data is being mined, even if you have done nothing wrong. Just because someone has nothing to hide does not mean that they will or should relinquish their privacy. Data mining focuses a lot on the ethics of the practice; this passage focused more on the social norms aspect of snooping.

I found it interesting how this passage introduced this idea of privacy invasion as a matter of social norms and etiquette. Even though information on the Internet may be easily accessible to the masses, it does not make it socially acceptable for others to search for and view this information. But do people actually take etiquette into consideration when they are inclined to snoop? In some respects, these social standards should reduce the amount of snooping that occurs. However, even though it may not be socially encouraged to conduct this type of intrusive behavior, it is still very prevalent. I think that social norms do not stop people from snooping, although they may promote the practice of private snooping: keeping the information that one finds to him or herself, in order to keep the fact that he or she was snooping private. The Internet is saturated with personal blogs, profiles, photos, etc.- does that make it acceptable for strangers to view this information and use it how they please?

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