I have an American bulldog called Hedwig (named after Hedwig and the Angry Inch not the owl from Harry Potter). She is a sweetheart and a lughead at the same time. She has a weak spot for pillows…if she is left with unattended access there is a good chance we will return to find a thick down of feathers covering everything. She just lies on the floor cowering in abject misery as we yell at her….again. Her argument is “what can I do…I cant stop myself… have a problem!” The NSA is a lot like Hedwig when it comes to our personal data.
The problem with data is that just as data it’s not that useful. You have to be able to use that data to answer questions. The obvious model to follow is a search engine. So God bless ’em our good friends at the NSA built themselves a “Google like” search engine for all their data. The troubling thing isn’t that they built a search engine….the troubling thing is that according to the law of the land they aren’t allowed to store data on US citizens on a “just incase” basis. Individual US citizens are supposed to be terror suspects or similar before being subject to this kind of scrutiny. In their enthusiasm to collect data on all kinds of potential foreign threats they are also scooping up tons of data on perfectly innocent US citizens and that data is then made searchable through their snappily named Google clone ICREACH search program.
What our government is doing is circumventing regulations designed to protect our privacy by wrapping a search engine around all of the data stored separately (and perhaps legitimately in some cases) by various government entities and making it searchable by all the agencies irrespective of who gathered it and under what level of legal approval.
This isn’t a new problem. Search technology companies have been solving these problems for large companies for years. Imagine you are Home Depot. You have data in many different databases such as sales, stock inventory, HR records, delivery schedules etc. To manage your business you need to be able to normalize that data so that your people can see the entire picture not just the data limited to the area they specialize in. A search engine can wrap around those different data sources giving insights into the bigger picture. It also makes sense to present the data in a way already understood by the people working on it. In the same way that the military models their vehicle and weapons control units around XBox controllers so the NSA copied Google. Data perhaps obtained legitimately by agency A is being made completely available to agencies B through Z a lot of data from completely innocent citizens is being collected then made available to any agency employee with access to ICREACH.
The good news is that our leaders who are incapable of launching a website to give access to medical services under the Affordable Care Act have apparently proved able to build and launch a super powerful search platform…an altogether tougher problem. I have a suggestion for that team. The VA has thousands of veterans who are unable to get services because the government simply can’t find their records. Maybe the ICREACH team could be brought in to index and make searchable the chaos of data collected legitimately by the VA and get those service people the services they need….it’s not as much fun as constantly breaking the fourth amendment…but a good idea none the less.