Here's an excerpt from an ITBusiness.ca article about a Canadian who is developing a new method of programmatically analyzing email to find people that are up to no good:
Dr. David Skillicorn’s work is based on the idea that when people are trying to hide something, they write differently than people who have nothing to hide. That’s more true of e-mail than of more formal documents, he adds, because few of us go back and edit our e-mails.
One difference might be the complete absence of words someone might possibly think would draw a law enforcement agency’s attention to their e-mails, but that most people would occasionally use innocently (as in “my presentation yesterday really bombed.”) Another, Skillicorn says, is that research shows people speak and write differently when they feel guilt about a subject, for instance using fewer first-person pronouns, like I and we.
“If you’re up to no good,” he says, “it’s very hard for you to write something that looks ordinary.”
To me this is scary. We already know of programs like the FBI's Carnivore that can scan email for suspicious phrases and key words. The idea of scouring email for a conspicuous absence of dangerous or incriminating phrases is even worse. I'm interpreting this to mean that a person who talks about bombs and terrorism can get flagged as a suspect, and a person who doesn't talk about threatening things can also get flagged as a suspect. Wouldn't this mean that nearly everyone who gets scanned by these opposing sets of logic would get flagged as a likely criminal?
Commercialization is not high on Skillicorn’s list of priorities. Such technology has obvious applications in surveillance by law enforcement and security bodies, but Skillicorn suspects agencies like the U.S. National Security Agency have little need of his help. “I infer from things they say around me that some of this stuff they already do,” he says.
No surprise there. Our great democratic bastion of freedom has always been very adept at using hi-tech surveillance methods to spy on people. The problem is, with laws like the Patriot Act, we no longer have a right to know who is getting spied on. For all I know, this blog has gotten me flagged on some sort of watch list since it often criticizes government policy when those policies chip away at our constitutionally guaranteed liberties.