Ready for Big Data?

By Beacon Staff

I’m getting a new computer. This time, I dang well will set it up to lessen the amount of information going out, as it seems like Al Gore’s Internet is learning a little too much about Dave. Why else would I see so many obviously-targeted adverts for guns, politics, AARP and bikini contests? Trust me, someone, or something, knows why.

Yeah, I know: Capitalism, baby, in the form of Big Data. An interactive ad by IBM explains Big Data is all about “helping companies use big data to gain relevant customer insights” – insight meaning every penny possible, through data mining on an unprecedented scale using unprecedented technology.

My friend John just got back from a roofing job at Apple’s new server farm near Prineville, Oregon. Huge – as a writer for Wired puts it – Oregon’s server farms are the “aluminum smelters of the Internet,” processing a mine of data into gold. The latest is “Google Glass” – camera-equipped geek headsets with a Net display. Orwellian? You bet – but what about Uncle Sam?

Well, my friend Peter was an Air Force photographer in Thailand during the Vietnam War. As an unrepentant Cold Warrior and civil libertarian, he’s always had a thing for (or against) the police state.

He keeps me up on privacy-related snippets, on subjects such as the National Security Agency’s giant computer facility in Tooele, Utah, plus the massive proliferation of street surveillance cameras in jolly olde England hooked to face-recognition technology. Times Square in New York was like that last time I visited – saturated with cameras and cop towers – safe, but creepy.

But Peter’s latest stuff has hit closer to home: On behalf of “law enforcement” organizations, the leader of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation asked the House Judiciary Committee last week to require wireless providers to record and store text messages for possible later retrieval. Verizon apparently already does, without a warrant, as policy. Never mind Gmail – 8,438 government agency “reads,” 6,542 without a warrant.

Both the Wall Street Journal and Slate reported that many police departments have cameras that read license plates and send the numbers to a database with location and time data – which “can be used as a kind of mass, warrantless tracking system.” A man in San Leandro, Calif., made a public-records request, to find out his rig had been photographed almost weekly, including a shot with his “two daughters getting out of a car in his driveway.” Suspect? Nah, just cop cars with cameras “that record every nearby vehicle.”

Only two states so far have laws regulating such data – Live Free or Die New Hampshire banning it, and Maine requiring deletion after 21 days unless part of an investigation, and that’s just on the ground.

We all heard about Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster over drone use overseas. But the Federal Aviation Administration expects up to 20,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), government and private, airborne in the USA by 2020.

Last summer, a cranky North Dakota farmer with a cow-trespass problem (he wouldn’t give them back) was brought to justice after the Department of Homeland Security offered the use of a Predator drone to local police. Like military Predators, DHS Predators can tell if a person is armed, at night, and further have signals intercept capability. I guess a Super Cub can’t do that.

So, Peter sends me a couple more clips – about small police agencies buying pocket drones; possible future drones the size of a hummingbird or a big fly – sitting there on the top shelf where you haven’t dusted in years? So, despite that Beacon article a couple years back about the Flathead being a possible center of drone/UAV research and manufacturing, I’m unenthused. Sorry.

Now, I know the KGB is gone, but what could the KGB have done with toys like that? What might be done here in America? Uncomfortably much, it seems, and folks are noticing. U.S. News and World Report covered an Oregon firm’s announcement it will sell “drone defense technology” in response. Such technology will probably be expensive, of course, leaving average Americans naked before Big Data.

Are you ready? I’m not, and never will be.

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