February 15, 2016

A hidden world, feeding on big data, growing beyond control

"Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” -Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president at Gartner

And just like oil, data too can be applied for both good and evil. I Previously talked about how big data will change our world for the better; http://goo.gl/oisdt - today I'll talk about its downside.

"Torture the data, and it will confess to anything" -Ronald Coase, Economics, Nobel Prize Laureate

Big data means Big errors - http://www.wired.com/2013/02/big-data-means-big-errors-people/
We’re more fooled by noise than ever before. With big data, researchers have brought cherry-picking to an industrial level. Modernity provides too many variables, but too little data per variable. So the spurious relationships grow much, much faster than real information. In other words: Big data may mean more information, but it also means more false information.

Although researchers have to learn how to deal with big data; they need to be made aware of its pitfalls and start making use of new analysis techniques that put a halt to cherry-picking, society as a whole is going to need to step up its game. We will have to steer legislature, the judiciary system and law enforcement in their use of big data. They are testing the waters, checking out how far they can go and so far, we, the people, have remained surprisingly silent. Surprising because we are very vocal about our privacy rights when it comes to corporations and what they can and can not do with our data but perhaps there is less concern about government because most are unaware of the government's big data plans which are playing out below radar?

Top Secret America - http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/
Did you know that the US Intelligence Community consists of 16 separate government agencies? Most of you will know about the FBI, the CIA and the NSA but have you ever heard of DIA, NGA, ONI, INR, INSCOM, ... ? According to the Washington Post there are 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in 10,000 locations in the United States that are working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence, and that the intelligence community as a whole includes 854,000 people who hold top-secret clearances.

CIA: Big Data is the future and we own it - http://www.businessinsider.com/cia-presentation-on-big-data-2013-3
"You're already a walking sensor platform," Hunt said, referring to all of the information captured by smartphones. "You are aware of the fact that somebody can know where you are at all times because you carry a mobile device, even if that mobile device is turned off.
"Since you can't connect dots you don't have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever," Hunt said. "It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information."
He ends with comments about how the "inanimate is becoming sentient," how cognitive machines (e.g. Watson) are going to "explode upon us," and how technology is moving faster than governments, legal systems, and even individuals can keep up.

Room 641 A - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_641A
Room 641A is a telecommunication interception facility operated by AT&T for the U.S. National Security Agency that commenced operations in 2003 and was exposed in 2006. Room 641A is located in the SBC Communications building at 611 Folsom Street, San Francisco, The room is fed by fiber optic lines from beam splitters installed in fiber optic trunks carrying Internet backbone traffic and, as analyzed by J. Scott Marcus, a former CTO for GTE and a former adviser to the FCC, has access to all Internet traffic that passes through the building, and therefore "the capability to enable surveillance and analysis of internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic." Former director of the NSA’s World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, William Binney, has estimated that 10 to 20 such facilities have been installed throughout the nation.

ECHELON - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON
Echelon is a globe spanning signals intelligence collection and analysis system. Its capabilities and political implications were investigated by a committee of the European Parliament during 2000 and 2001 with a report published in 2001. In this report the European Parliament stated that on the basis of information presented, ECHELON was capable of interception and content inspection of telephone calls, fax, e-mail and other data traffic globally through the interception of communication bearers including satellite transmission, public switched telephone networks and microwave links.

AI could help in terrorist investigations - https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23403-ai-could-help-investigation-of-boston-marathon-bombing
Machine vision techniques are on the verge of being able to slash the manpower needed for such investigations, and surveillance systems are starting to get a handle on real-time analyses which could even prevent some attacks from happening in the first place. Once trained, a surveillance system can flag up behaviour which falls outside of established norms.

ARGUS - 1.8 gigapixel ARGUS-IS. World's highest resolution video surveillance platform by DARPA
The ARGUS-IS, or Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System, together with a new generation of solar powered airplanes that can stay in the air indefinitely could enable all seeing eyes patrolling our sky 24/7. This gives people in power access to a time machine that allows them to dig into anyone's past for dirt they can use to stay in power.

Palantir - The War on Terror's Secret Weapon
Palantir is a piece of software made by Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley company that’s become the darling of the intelligence and law enforcement communities. Palantir’s name refers to the “seeing stones” in Lord of the Rings that provide a window into other parts of Middle-earth. What Palantir does, says Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner (IT), is “make it really easy to mine these big data sets.” The company’s software pulls off one of the great computer science feats of the era: It combs through all available databases, identifying related pieces of information, and puts everything together in one place. Most of Palantir’s government work remains classified

NSA is building a massive datacenter - http://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/
A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.”

When the chief tech officer of the CIA says; "It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information." this should raise eyebrows and spark public debate. Do we really want governments, corporations, anyone, to be able to keep track of our position, our spending, our interests, our friends, our history, our genes, perhaps in time even our thoughts when Brain Computer Interfaces become common place? I think not. They are spending your money on new buildings to house datacenters and supercomputers to keep on top of the ever growing data mountain that you generate to keep you safe. Are you okay with that? What happened to warrants and innocent until proven guilty? What kinda of security measures are in place to prevent others from accessing it? What guarantees are there that this massive pile of data won't be abused in the future?

The US gov is not just trying to get their hands on data you generate directly, it's also hoping to gain access to all the data that corporations have on you. They hope to gain this power through CISPA, a proposed law that recently passed the house, it would force various technology and manufacturing companies to share their data. These are big issueas and there are no easy answers but I believe that part of the solutions lies in sousveillance. As they keep tabs on us, so we have to keep tabs on them. This means more transparency from the gov's side but the public too needs to get more involved. Don't want CISPA to pass? Check which way your representative voted and give him a call to make him change his mind or to thank him for his common sense. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/113-2013/h117

"With great data comes great responsibility."- Data analyst's uncle

Big Brother is WWWatching You - feat. George Orwell [RAP NEWS 15]

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