The all-seeing database?
Total Information Awareness (TIA) is the Bushies plans plan to monitor everything we buy, what books we check out at the library, our credit cards, medical history, etc, so they can (ostensibly) be on the lookout for terrorists.
Well, of course it’s a noxious, Orwellian, probably unconstitutional plan and should be fought as hard as possible.
It also can’t work. What they want is a gargantuan database pulling in data from hundreds of thousands of computers, all with differing operating systems and database formats. Among other things, I’m a database programmer, and I’ve done many data conversions. Just transferring data reliably from one or two different systems into a master database can be problematic. To do this reliably on a daily basis from countless computers, all of which may be changing their data formats at any time, then to expect to be able to mine this data to extract crucial info on a timely basis – well, it’s absurd.
This is like saying, “Assemble a pile of twenty million rocks, boulders, pebbles, and sand particles at random every day for a year. Now tell me the patterns you find between them, and do it right, because we’re trying to find terrorists here”.
Our policy in war is somewhat the same. A bloodless high level technological approach that attempts to be all-seeing. Bomb them from the skies using “smart bombs”. Which is not unlike “Scan all data looking for patterns”. It’s a computer only approach. What happened to using people? Both on the ground in counter-terrorism and on the ground in war. (Well, we may be about to see out troops engaged in war on the ground, but that’s another topic.)
Back to TIA. It would cost billions upon billions to even begin to implement it. Even if every computer in the US is hooked into TIA (which would cause howls of protest from civil libertarians and from business – because of the cost), and these computers could somehow reliably transmit data into TIA (hint: they won’t be able to, trust me, it would be nightmarishly complicated and error-prone), there is no way to analyze all that data in anything close to real time to provide anything useful.
You’d have to employ thousands of programmers just to keep the behemoth somehow running, then thousands more to write and maintain the code to analyze the data. Then, oh, thousands more to determine if the data actually means anything coherent. Plus thousands more to get the data to however might need it.
Did I mention the security needed to insure the programmers are loyal and not up to mischief and/or sabotage? Did I mention the hundreds of terabytes of data per minute streaming in that must be made sense of?
No, it can’t work. And I haven’t even gotten into all the ways it could be tricked or manipulated.