Why Prism Is The Right Investment - InformationWeek
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Why Prism Is The Right Investment

Let's not get distracted as a nation from the real problem: our sorry state of analytics.

Here's what scares me ...

If the government wanted to snoop on you, it wouldn't need state-of-the-art predictive analytics. It wouldn't need the world's top minds to innovate around how to find needles in the big data haystack. It wouldn't even need any tech developed after the 1890s. It could just get a wiretap order from any judge and then give some much-needed overtime to that poor guy trapped in the '70s who's sweating it out in the flowered van outside your house.

If you want to fix a problem, fix everything wrong with that last sentence.

The right conversation to have as a nation -- between now and when Skynet achieves self-awareness -- is how to balance our civil liberties with emerging technologies that allow law enforcement officials to deal with the turduckens of data that they have to eat through.

The possibility of another attack doesn't scare me. It's inevitable, and that's not Dick Cheney talking (I wish he wouldn't). That's statistics.

What scares me is that the polemics around Prism will distract the nation from our sorry state of analytics, the craptastic tools that we hand to our police and intelligence communities. If we're not willing to invest in the most-promising and -sophisticated software tools and platforms, we might as well replace law enforcement with paramedics and drones -- the left's and right's answer to how to clean up the mess.

The civil liberties crowd, which I oddly consider myself a part of, needs to stop pretending to be outraged by Prism and spend that energy on evolving our standards to better account for technological advancement.

Neither side wins if the media freak show slows or stops the refinement of technologies without which our nation will continue to operate data blind.

Eyes wide open ...

I'm not trying to trap you in some difficult moral dilemma. There's no ticking bomb on a bus. Your mother isn't on that bus. And you don't have to choose whether to torture someone potentially innocent to save Mom.

Theoretical constructs are a waste of time. So, too, is the process of manually getting a known terrorist's phone records and then getting the records of everyone he called and so on and so on. And then manually constructing that picture.

Technology can and should help. And it doesn't have to trash civil liberties.

Let's quit trying to scare each other and figure out how.

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User Rank: Strategist
7/15/2013 | 5:57:41 PM
re: Why Prism Is The Right Investment
The perfect world. No moral dilemmas. Data collected and gathered for a single perfect reason in a single perfect way. All so easy and convenient for law enforcement. All good on that, but consider:

Data collected for a good cause does not always get used that way. The very information the "government" is not interested in, may be a treasure trove for another person or organization who may somehow get access to the information.

The people who collect, analyze, oversee, and store this information are only human. They can fall victim to vices, threats, collusion, temptation for illegal personal gain, just like others do. Access to data can be breached, bought, or leveraged for other purposes--it happens all the time.

Having this valuable broad data set available is a problem because it creates a liability for everyone who's data it contains--basically everyone that uses technology--all of us. There are no assurances anyone can make about the data falling into the wrong hands, or being used for immoral, criminal, or other devious behavior in the future. This is why it should not be collected, en mass, and maintained as it currently is. It is clearly wrong to do so.

So yes, dismantle it and instead work to make sure others can't collect it. Make the networks secure, not insecure. If you need to collect information on someone who is likely up to something illegal, then get a valid legal warrant, and focus on them and their information--and yes, do use the best technology for that purpose.
User Rank: Ninja
7/15/2013 | 5:54:44 PM
re: Why Prism Is The Right Investment
I agree in part. I agree that government needs better analytics tools and I'm definitely concerned that the feds buy closed source systems that they have to pay the original vendor to maintain for them, when they're probably the only customer (it's one thing to license a closed source word processing program; quite another to license software designed to identify terrorists). The feds would have never tolerated this 30 years ago, and probably do so now because some lobbyist was able to talk Congress into making them.

The questions that continue to disturb me are when should private businesses (or other organizations) be required to hand over records to the police or other government agencies, and what sorts of record keeping (over and above those required for internal purposes or tax assessment) should such organizations be required to perform. A requirement that phone companies hand over all of their call records on an continuing basis looks a lot to me like a general search and it probably would have seemed much the same to James Madison (the author of the Fourth Amendment). And even if we allow it, where do we draw the line between that and having every retail establishment in the country keep detailed customer records so they can be handed over to law enforcement in hopes that they can use them to build a super model to predict who is and is not a criminal?

And no, Edward Snowden doesn't strike me as being that heroic either, but like Julian Assange, it looks like he's picked his own prison.
D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
7/15/2013 | 5:42:18 PM
re: Why Prism Is The Right Investment
I'm with you, Coverlet, on many people getting excessively worked up about Prism. They see only black and white in a world full of gray. I do have a different take on the underlying technology. Here's my column on NSA's Accumulo system: http://ubm.io/12jwDfh
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