Big Data allows governments to spy on citizens with impunity

December 17, 2012 - 

Governments in North America will increase their use of “Big Data” technologies to spy on their citizens.

A recent report in the Wall Street Journal has noted that the U.S. government has granted a little-known agency entitled the National Counterterrorism Center with sweeping authority to store and monitor massive amounts of data about law-abiding Americans.

The Center serves as the primary organization in the U.S. government for integrating and analyzing all intelligence pertaining to terrorism and serves as the central and shared knowledge bank on terrorism information. The agency provides “all-source” intelligence support to government-wide counter-terrorism activities, and establishes the information technology systems and architectures needed to share information with other government agencies that enable access to, as well as integration, dissemination, and use of, terrorism information.

In other words, the Center serves as a clearinghouse for “Big Data”, which is typically defined as a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications.

“Big Data” clearinghouses become necessary when tremendous amounts of information are to be collated.

New guidelines issued directly by the White House earlier this year allows the agency to collate information about citizens from diverse sources such as state and local government databases, flight records, casino-employee lists, and immigration records, which incorporate personal and sensitive biometric data. The Center will work to analyze this multiplicity of data sources to develop “predictive pattern-matching” techniques that will be able to determine suspicious patterns of behavior.

Under the new guidelines, these data sources can be provided to trusted foreign governments for analysis, so that they can also attempt to predict and disrupt terrorist activity. It is therefore understandable that governments allied to the United States, such as Canada, have begun to ramp up their own anti-terror security intelligence apparatus for receipt of this new source of “Big Data” intelligence.

Canada’s electronic spy organization is currently working on completing a new 72,000-square meter US$891-million headquarters in the country’s capital, which is expected to be home to more than 1,800 employees. Not unlike the National Counterterrorism Center in the United States, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) supports the Canadian government’s decision-making process in the areas of national security, national defence and foreign policy. The Canadian agency’s activities relate exclusively to foreign intelligence and are directed by the Canadian government’s intelligence priorities. The agency will be involved in receiving and sifting through “Big Data” received from the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.

As BiometricUpdate.com has previously reported, Canada and the United States will also continue to share a tremendous amount of immigration information, including biometric data for both respective country’s visa applicants.

We can therefore expect an acceleration of “Big Data” initiatives in North America within the intelligence community centered on linking government databases with more innocuous information, collected from public sources, such as the Internet. With an acceleration of such efforts, residents in both countries can expect a loss of anonymity, along with being tracked at unprecedented rates by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, without warrant, and with lack of effective external legal, independent oversight.

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About Rawlson King

Rawlson O’Neil King is a contributing editor at BiometricUpdate.com and is an experienced communications professional, management consultant, trade journalist and author who recently published a book about control and electronic networks and who has written numerous articles in trade publications and academic journals about smart home and building technologies. Follow him @rawlsonking2.