July 26, 2013 -
Big government is increasingly exploiting “Big Data” to track U.S. citizens at unprecedented rates without effective oversight.
Big Data is a term used to describe large and complex data sets that can provide insightful conclusions when analyzed and visualized in a meaningful way. Over the past five years, new Internet and biometric technologies have emerged that are able to combine silos of data from different information sources into a single unified location where data can be analyzed. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have begun to use these technologies to track people at unprecedented rates and in unprecedented ways.
While the U.S. Government denies it operates an illegal Internet surveillance program that spies on its citizens and residents at large, press reports have confirmed that its intelligence apparatus has developed surveillance programs that aggregate and collate large amount of publicly-accessible online data, ostensibily, to track terrorist-related activity.
Late last year, BiometricUpdate.com reported that the U.S. Government granted the National Counterterrorism Center sweeping authority to store and monitor massive amounts of data about law-abiding Americans.
The BiometricUpdate.com report noted that 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.”
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 addition, our report recently revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had secret court orders issued to Verizon, as well as AT&T and Sprint, to obtain millions of subscriber’s telephone records. The government claimed that it issued the warrant not to eavesdrop directly on Americans, but to run call patterns through Big Data algorithms to track the location of terrorists and to predict future terrorist activity.
In terms of law enforcement, security firms have been developing Big Data applications to furnish police forces with highly refined data from wide-area surveillance systems.
In 2012, Microsoft began to work with New York City on developing a Big Data surveillance system entitled “Domain Awareness”. The new system will be designed to collate data from over 3,000 closed-circuit television cameras from Lower and Midtown Manhattan. Other data that will be fed into the system will include information from 2,600 mobile radiation detectors distributed to New York Police Department (NYPD) officers on patrol, and 100 license plate readers that are installed at bridges, tunnels, streets, and on city police cars, along with databases of crime patterns along with live data from 911 calls and police radios. The system will function provide all information visually and geographically, in a chronological context. The system will draw heavily upon facial scan technology.
BiometricUpdate.com also reported extensively about the now infamous TrapWire surveillance system last year. The surveillance system, which is offered to U.S. and Canadian law enforcement and intelligence agencies, can digitally collate surveillance video and instantaneously deliver intelligence data to a central database for evaluation and preemptive action.
With the national intelligence and security failures that preceded the events of September 11, it is not surprising that U.S. and other various levels of governments are now seeking new sources of voluminous, raw data, along with new effective methods of analysis.
The U.S. Government has reportedly been exploring more Big Data applications that aim to collect “metadata”, or data about data, which include phone call patterns and social networking linkages derived from services such as Facebook and Twitter. By collecting metadata, governments can surveil without the need for warrants.
BiometricUpdate.com has also reported that the sharing of data between immigration services and police departments have lead to the reasonable criticism that citizen privacy can be compromised through uncontrolled information collection and sharing between government agencies.
As an example, approximately 300,000 fingerprints are collected per day and stored in Department of Homeland Security biometric databases, which are interconnected with state and local law enforcement databases. Because of the interconnection of databases between these agencies, the privacy of law-abiding U.S. citizens and legal immigrants can be compromised.
In February, Biometric Research Group, Inc. told the Postmedia newspaper chain that the biggest risk surrounding government surveillance is that while it can be rightfully and effectively employed to mitigate crime and terrorism, surveillance operations are employed in a fashion that no longer require warrants based upon “probable cause”. Further, many metadata gathering operations cannot be constrained by “search and seizure” rules.
Rawlson King, a lead researcher at Biometrics Research Group told the Postmedia chain that: “[i]f you’re in a trusted traveler program and your fingerprint is also linked to a Big Data clearinghouse that is also trying to collect all sorts of information about you, from banking transactions to where you surfed online, that’s an incredible amount of power and insight that the government will have without legal mechanisms and protections and going to the courts to obtain warrants.”
It is therefore apparent that some of the most important considerations that need to be deliberated by legislators in the United States are: how much data do we want collected about the citizenry; how do we want it to be collated; and do we want to this data to be collected based on the issuance of a court order.