DTRA researcher Brashears says NSA data collection does not need to invade privacy to be effective

Cornell University Professor of sociology Matthew Brashears, the principal investigator on a Defense Threat Reduction Agency research project, recently said that identifying terrorists is possible without invading personal privacy.

Brashears heads the DTRA research project to discover secret social networks that can potentially pose a threat to national security through chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks. Brashears says the issue of personal privacy is not that the DTRA or the National Security Agency gains access to a citizen's information, but that private corporations gain access to app users' personal information in the first place.

"It's no surprise that many apps are gathering a considerable amount of information on their users, but the real privacy issue is not that the NSA or U.K. intelligence are using this data, but that private corporations, answerable primarily to their stockholders, are obtaining it in the first place," Brashears said. "It would be naive of national security organizations not to make use of these methods, particularly given the dominance of cell phones in many parts of the world.

Brashears said the identification of terrorists has more to deal with processing data in a way that reveals actionable intelligence, not the collection of more data itself.

"This approach is flawed practically, regardless of the serious ethical issues," Brashears said. "In our research, we've achieved surprisingly accurate identifications of terrorist suspects with limited, and non-invasive, data - the type of data that minimally violates individual privacy rights. Obviously at some point a closer investigation of such suspects would become invasive, but it appears to be possible to limit such invasive surveillance to a much smaller set of individuals than a sweep of app data includes."