French Tragedy and Bulk Data Collection

In May, I wrote Senate Allowed Spy Program to Lapse — Playing With Lives. With this tragedy, some may wish to ponder again.

Based upon past terrorism cases,  the argument has been made that bulk data collection is ineffective. Historical analysis is not without merit, but historical prediction is challenged by the changing landscape:

  • The software tools used by the NSA, the fusion of A.I. and Big Data, are constantly evolving, reducing the acknowledged problem of analyst overload.
  • As terrorist communication techniques and technologies evolve, cells become more resistant to low-tech discovery. This pushes the probabilities of detection towards Big Data sifting.
  • A primary activity of NSA warrantless wiretapping was to build, without looking at contents of communications, database representations of “who-knows-who”. Since encryption technology has advanced beyond DES, it becomes increasingly questionable whether the successors can be broken by brute-force or even lots of plain text. This makes “who-knows-who” more important.

An  opinion of whether the potential of bulk data collection to save lives is worth the challenge to civil liberties is usually couched as pure ideology.  But it may be influenced by the degree of empathy with the geographic areas of greatest risk, the “blue” states of the Eastern Megalopolis, and California.

Historically, the U.S. has compromised civil liberties in times of war.  Perception of a state of visceral war, one with a significant body count, fluctuates with current events, and fades with memory.

The choice between compromise of civil liberties, and the probabilities of future mass casualties, masquerades as logical. With which will you have the fewest future regrets?