The NSA plus Big Data equals Big Brother

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Brand new NSA data warehouse in Utah – where your data goes to never die.

Preface: I’ve done some small amount of work with big data, and have a general understanding of how it works.  I haven’t really seen a decent breakdown of what is happening, and felt it necessary to share. 

Over the past decade, Business Intelligence has really come into vogue.  Companies all have many large and often unconnected databases, full of information about their customers.  Thus is makes sense that they’d want to find ways to connect this data together, to reach across systems to enable them to literally mine the value of their data, allowing them to better understand not only their customers, but the nature of their businesses.

From Wikipedia:

Business intelligence (BI) is a set of theories, methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes. BI can handle large amounts of information to help identify and develop new opportunities. Making use of new opportunities and implementing an effective strategy can provide a competitive market advantage and long-term stability.

It works.

Here is a great, fairly short IBM animation on Big Data.  While you listen, consider the implications of applying such strategies to ALL data…for political purposes.

So the other day, I was talking with another engineer and system architect and mentioned that the government was storing all the data from the license plate scanners in police cars.  He looked back and me and said “Of course they are…if you designed the system, you’d be storing the data too…” and he was right.  I would.

Okay, so let’s look at the data that our government has admitted they are already grabbing:

  • Metadata from phones- ACLU article
    • exact gps coordinates of where each call was made from
    • to whom it was made
    • by who it was made
    • where the recipient was
    • how long the call was
  • Location data from any time you are scanned by a police cruiser  – ACLU article
  • Credit card transactions – WSJ
  • Internet history – WSJ
  • Internet seaches – WSJ
  • Arrests, Civil Suits, etc.

Okay, that’s a pretty major intrusion on our privacy to begin with.  But we can also safely assume the following is being stored:

  • Location data from traffic cams
  • Tax data (they already have it, so why not pull it into their profile, along with all employment related documents)
  • The actual cell phone call itself (the NSA maintains they don’t listen, but they do save them, so they can listen later if they want) – Daily KOS
  • Immigration records (trips out of the country)
  • Travel records (trips inside the country via airlines)
  • Location data via your EasyPass – the time and date of every trip through the tolls you take.

Now, just for laughs let’s consider a couple other bits of information they very well might consider mining:

  • Supermarket advantage cards – that would tell them what you eat, what brand of deodorant you use, the works.
  • Drug store advantage cards – that give them every type of medication you buy, prescription or over the counter(Of course, they won’t need this for long…).

That, my friends, is a crap ton of data.  None of it comes from a warrant, and that’s all without out even the slightest presumption that you’ve done anything wrong.  I’m no lawyer, but I am certain that violates the constitution in both deed and spirit.  And when Obamacare kicks in, that will most likely give them access to all of our health records, right down to our DNA profile.

So why are they collecting it, you ask?  The reason is this: large scale data analysis relies on having the most possible data points to provide comprehensive profiles.

This is a great way for our government to identify possible miscreants before they’ve offended.  However, its not illegal in the US to fit a profile for a potential offender.

It does help them single out people and groups for much closer scrutiny.  However when you put such power at the fingertips of low level government functionaries, it’s virtually inevitable someone’s going to start targeting people based on criteria other than that which we might expect.  Think of the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, or their 3.5 year audit of former NJ Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.

For my progressive friends, let me put that into context: how would you feel if President Cheney was using the incredible power of the federal government to selectively target Harry Reid, George Soros and MoveOn?

Worse yet, our government isn’t just doing this to our citizens, they are apparently doing the same throughout the rest of the world.

As Americans, we need to stand up and put an end to this.  It is intolerable that our government is running rough shod over privacy, the Constitution and our general sensibilities.  Our forefathers fought against this sort of tyranny, and it begins to look more and more as though we will need to fight that fight as well.

As Edmund Burke said:

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

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