The federal government approach of vacuuming up every speck of data because it might need it someday is useless, counterproductive, and does nothing to stop terrorism. NSA itself has admitted it has no way of quickly and accurately using the data it stores, saying maybe it will one day. It won’t and it can’t. This approach is a waste of time and money. Worse, this is the approach taken by all federal agencies. They are storing massive amounts of data on us in incompatible formats, not sharing with each other. It’s a Tower of Babel. Perhaps we should be thankful they are so inept.
The insurmountable problem NSA and the rest face is attempting to store data which arrives in hundreds of thousands of incompatible formats (which are subject to change at a moment’s notice) then being able to retrieve it reliably based on a few snippets of information. Fugetaboutit. It can’t be done quickly, if at all, and certainly not done accurately and without security breaches.
Here’s an example. NSA get a whisper an evildoer named Bob Morris is plotting something nefarious. How many Bob Morris’ are there in the US? Thousands. Are they sure the Bob Morris is question isn’t using an alias or spoofing an identity? I get about 50 emails a month that were clearly meant for another Bob Morris. The probability of false positives is high when trying to make sense of data stored in a zillion different formats. Storing massive amounts of data is relatively simple compared to make sense of it. And even that isn’t easy. If a Belgian phone company changes its data formats then NSA has to change how it stores that data yet still make all previous data from the phone company retrievable too. Multiply that by the probably hundreds of times data formats change on a daily basis worldwide and you have an unwieldy mess that probably collapsed under its own weight years ago into gibberish. Emphasis added
“No wonder the government can’t find needles in the haystack—it keeps storing irrelevant hay,” [Fred] Cate, [a law professor at Indiana University] told me “Even if the data were fresh and properly secured, how is collecting all of this aiding in the fight against terrorism? This is a really important issue because it exposes a basic and common fallacy in the government’s thinking: that more data equates with better security. But that wasn’t true on 9/11, and it still isn’t true today. This suggests that US transportation security officials are inefficient, incompetent, on using the data for other, undisclosed purposes. None of those are very encouraging options.”