Yesterday The Washington Post ran a story entitled, “Surveillance Net Yields Few Suspects.” I was quoted in this story making the point that technologies that produce too many false positives run the risk of becoming civil liberty infringement engines.
While I am working on a formal paper in this area, let me quickly say a few things.
In the direct marketing business, false positives have one fairly minimal consequence – the wasted expense of the mail piece and its postage. In the law enforcement and national security business, false positives have other more serious consequences, namely:
1. Overwhelming analysts with dead-end leads that waste resources; and
2. Civil liberties infringements.
Our 4th Amendment requires “reasonable and particular” government searches and seizures. It stands to reason that the higher the false positives the less "reasonable and particular" the process must have been.
The good news is that analysts and investigators hate all the false positives too … so if we create systems that minimize false positives, everyone wins.