Monday, September 24, 2007

Data mining article yanked from net

A student article on federal data-mining research on terrorist "chatter" at social networking sites vanished from the internet edition of the Rutgers student newspaper The Daily Targum today.

The Targum internet edition displayed the print front page, except that the space for the article "Students protest Busch research" was blank when I checked both Microsoft Explorer and Mozilla Firefox browsers on a Rutgers University terminal. A check of the student paper's search function showed the article was recorded. (Let me know whether the story has become visible in the blank spot. Write me at

The net edition is published by College Publisher Network.

Student Nasreen Hussain's story today concerns a student protest held at the Center for Discrete Mathematics and Computer Sciences on the university's Busch campus.

Fred Roberts, head of the Center for Dynamic Data Analysis (DyDAn), told the reporter that his center is one of four formed by the Department of Homeland Security. The other universities involved are Princeton, Rensselaer, Texas Southern and Texas State, along with Alcatel-Lucent Bell Laboratories and AT&T Laboratories, the story said. Additionally, federal weapons laboratories are contributing to the research.

"The work at Rutgers the students are concerned about is not aimed at identifying anti-American sentiments, nor do I believe it can be useful for that," Roberts told Hussain. "It is aimed at picking up 'chatter' about potential terrorist plots, not at picking up opposition to the war in Iraq or opposition to government spying on private conversations. The methods for doing these two things are very different."

Yet, he conceded that "a scientist can never guarantee" that such tools won't be misused. Roberts said that Rutgers' participation in the research means privacy concerns will be addressed. (Go to for further background.)

Roberts has said that sites such as MySpace are not especially confidential, regardless of whether the privacy option is used. He notes that the companies routinely cooperate with law enforcement agencies.

Update Sept. 25
No response was received to emails sent to Roberts or Targum editors.

Today's print Targum makes no mention of the missing item.

Today's online version shows what appears to be a "normal" blank column running down the page. However, the data mining story was the lead of yesterday's print edition but not visible on yesterday's main online page.

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