Ruin The assorted ramblings of Brendan Tobolaski

Confirmation Bias with Bulk Data Collection

But there’s another danger that Snowden didn’t mention that’s inherent in the government’s having easy access to the voluminous data we produce every day: It can imply guilt where there is none. When investigators have mountains of data on a particular target, it’s easy to see only the data points that confirm their theories — especially in counterterrorism investigations when the stakes are so high — while ignoring or downplaying the rest. There doesn’t have to be any particular malice on the part of investigators or analysts, although prejudice no doubt comes into play, just circumstantial evidence and the dangerous belief in their intuition. Social scientists refer to this phenomenon as confirmation bias, and when people are confronted with data overload, it’s much easier to weave the data into a narrative that substantiates what they already believe.
Matthew Harwood on Aljazeera America

This has been my concern since I first heard about the NSA’s bulk data collection. They seem to only be searching for evidence that would prove guilt and not collecting evidence that would prove innocence. The presumption of innocence is also gone. Of course, without any evidence of false prosecution, its only a concern, except:

Mayfield’s biographical details, particularly his religion and representation of an alleged terrorist, contributed to the FBI lab’s reluctance to re-examine the mistaken identification. According to the OIG, “One of the examiners candidly admitted that if the person identified had been someone without these characteristics, like the Maytag repairman, the laboratory might have revisited the identification with more skepticism and caught the error.”

This is awful. Its absurd that the primary evidence that led the FBI to suspect Mayfield, the fingerprints, were not actually his. Instead, they ignored that evidence and proceeded to build a case against him because of some circumstantial evidence. This should not happen under any condition.