It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.
While I recognize that the NYT is not a technical body, and reporters often get the gist of technology wrong, this particular kind of definition has swept the media to such a degree that the term "data mining" may never recover.
The definition itself has problems, such as
1) searching databases per se I'm sure is not what they mean by data mining; almost certainly they mean programs that automatically searching the databases to find interesting patterns (and presumably horribly overfitting int he process, registering many false positives) as the problem. After all, a Nexus search searches a database and no one raises an eyebrow at that.
2) the problem with the searching is not the searching (or the data mining in their terminology), but the data that is being searched. Therefore the headline of the story, "Mining of Data Prompted Fight Over Spying" should probably more accurately read something like "Data allowed to be Mined Prompted Fight Over Spying"
It is this second point that I have argued over with others who are concerned about privacy, and therefore have become anti-data-mining. It is the data that is the problem, not the mining (regardless of the definition of mining). But I think the term "data mining" resonates well and generates a clear mental image of what is going on, which is why it gained popularity in the first place.
So I predict that within 5 years, few data miners (and I consider myself one of them) will refer to him/herself as a data miner, nor will we describe what we do as data mining. Predictive Analytics anyone?