Dale Carpenter at the Volokh conspiracy calls our attention to an article by Bruce Schneier on the NSA domestic surveillance programs. Schneir claims the programs are ineffective at detecting terrorist activity, so they are all cost and no benefit. Schneier begins:
Collecting information about every American's phone calls is an example of data mining. The basic idea is to collect as much information as possible on everyone, sift through it with massive computers, and uncover terrorist plots. It's a compelling idea, and convinces many. But it's wrong. We're not going to find terrorist plots through systems like this, and we're going to waste valuable resources chasing down false alarms. To understand why, we have to look at the economics of the system.
This is a partial answer to the question raised in my earlier post on the NSA:
But how do we know whether anti-terrorism measures in fact prevent terrorism?
If Schneier is right, we know because we can undertake a basic statistical analysis of the programs in question, and this analysis shows the programs are utterly useless.