That Data Point Is In Here Somewhere….

Data mining 1Now showing in the Foggy Bottom Theater of Scandal – Data-Gate: the NSA and FBI gathering of information on, well, everybody.

After a decent night’s sleep and a chance get more info than the headline “NSA Is Collecting Data of Verizon Customers” from the UK’s The Guardian, which turned out to be related to the GPS system and calls going through various cell towers, it looks like the bigger story is actually a whistleblower somewhere in the intelligence community leaking to The Washington Post the top-secret program called PRISM: the FBI can watch conversations in real time courtesy of the communications companies who let them do it.  (None of the corps are saying if their involvement was voluntary.  My guess is not.)

Bigger question: who did the Obama regime tick off in the intelligence agencies?  Leaking the existence of this program in the midst of the IRS scandal while the sleeping giant is working on waking up cannot be a coincidence.

Yesterday, I wrote a piece on the FBI backing a bill requiring “back doors” be written into communications programs of all sorts.  With the revelation of PRISM, it would seem that the FBI wants additional legal cover for what they’ve already been doing, albeit with an easier way to get to the information they are really seeking (all while compromising American intellectual property).

But, the audience exclaims, they are collecting all this data on us. Our private emails, and chats and phone calls and some documents.

Yes.  And while this is completely beyond the scope of acceptability to a privacy loving people, the pile of data is just that, a pile, unless a shortcut to find the exact information the data miner is seeking is developed.  (That’s the part that has not been developed in the story.)  Otherwise,  it’s pretty much like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Hugh Hewitt calls it “Where’s Waldo” as a form of intelligence gathering.  Mark Steyn agreed.  And based on a career of keeping other people organized, I’m going to side with them.

Information – data – is only useful if there is an efficient method of retrieving it (note to the U.S. Census Bureau: the excel spreadsheets are great, but there’s so much data there, it takes hours to find specific numbers).  This is why libraries are organized by subject.  The two main cataloging systems, Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress, are classified this way.  Go to any one non-fiction section of books, and everything on one topic will be in the same place.

It’s very much like all of one’s wardrobe –  entire contents of closets, dressers, cedar chest, storage boxes under the bed, the hamper, and all the dresses that someday might actually fit again – being dumped in a gigantic elephant sized pile in the middle of the bedroom floor and looking for that one Cardinal Nation tissue tee to wear to the ballgame today because it’s hot.  Only, because there are at least two loads of red clothes in the pile, this being Cardinal Nation after all, and off season sweaters, intimates, skirts, the black power suit, workout clothes, pjs, socks and the down coat being in the mix, finding it takes ten minutes.  This is why we organize our clothing.  With off-season stuff in deep storage, soiled items in the wash, dresses hung, and t-shirts stacked by type, finding that specific item takes ten seconds (unless your sister borrowed it).

The same concept goes for electronic information.  Unless it is tagged (hint to all bloggers out there looking for more traffic on their posts), the search engines don’t index completely.  All that information the government is collecting that has been dumped in a data center has to be somehow tagged to make it useful.  At a guess, somebody has a spider search program that combs through it all looking for specific terms.  That would mean computers are looking at it, not necessarily humans.  It also means that a lot of information is going to be missed.

Again, this is not how we Americans would have the government do things, national security or not.  But, going through the sheer volume of information generated daily without discarding some of it is a gargantuan job.  (I used to index all kinds of material in an archives.  Trust me.)  In my email inbox alone, cleaning out the junk mail is constant, since I get maybe one truly personal email a day.  And I doubt discount deals on mineral make-up is what the government wants to know about me.  (However, if anyone wants my famous guacamole recipe, keep reading.)

The question that needs to be answered is how the FBI, or any other government agency, chooses their search terms, or who to watch.  How do they know?  If that’s where the phone calls come in, are they looking strictly at patterns and duration and then lay it over other information?  The chances of strictly foreign nationals being traced, as we have been assured is happening, are pretty slim.  (51% assuredness…right.  Although, in actionable intelligence, they go with lower than absolute percentages.  Still doesn’t make it right.)

One thing we Americans forget is that the hardware infrastructure of all this communications is actually government developed, and to an extent, owned (right now content in the US is not regulated, but there is a UN treaty out there that seeks to change that).  At any time, just about all digital content could be intercepted, especially if it is traveling through the air.  This is why business deals are frequently done in person with phone calls made on land lines.  There is next to no chance of leakage, especially if computer files are kept on a private server.

When it comes down to it, our best protection in this ordeal, legal or not, may well be the size of the pile of data the government has to go through to find anything useful.  They may have access at a lot of different points along the route, but how much of it is girls chatting about Justin Bieber, and how many calls are between spouses in the midst of an argument, and how many are brides planning their weddings?  For 300 million people, personal details are a lot of data.  Wading through it is the much more difficult task.

If any of us really wants to keep something confidential, keep it in a handwritten diary or write a letter.  At this point that may be all that the government isn’t collecting.

CL’s Famous Guacamole

3 medium just ripe avocados
1 juicy lime
2 largish garlic cloves
3-4 slices of red onion
1-2 jalapeño peppers
Fresh cilantro
Kosher salt
Pepper grinder with peppercorns in it

Scoop out avocados into a mixing bowl.  Mince the garlic and dump it in.  Cut the onion in little pieces and dump it in.  Take about 10 stalks of fresh cilantro, chop it finely and dump it in.  Cut the jalapeños in half, clean out the seeds and chop into small pieces.  Dump it into the bowl taking care not to get jalapeño juice in the eyes, nose or any other bodily opening (scrub under fingernails with hot water and soap).  Juice the lime and dump it into the bowl, pulp and all.  Using a potato masher, mash the ingredients together until the mixture is just even and still thick.  Take 2-3 generous pinches of kosher salt, sprinkle over the top.  Grind fresh pepper over the bowl in circles for about 20 seconds.  Mash the mixture some more.  Transfer the mess to a smaller bowl, using a rubber scraper if necessary to get all the guac out.  Be sure that it is pushed as tightly together as possible and cover with plastic wrap AGAINST THE GUAC, not just over the top of the bowl to keep the air out (this keeps the avocados from turning).  Put in the fridge for a couple hours before serving.

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Categories: Politics

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5 replies

  1. And for that matter the PTSN (landlines) have back doors as well, they always have. Why? Back when switching (Boolean) algebra was being developed (which is what is used for these networks) there were only two places in the world for mathematicians to work on this stuff- Bell Labs and CIA, and CIA was involved to help with export sales, kind of handy to be able to short circuit the opponents telephone system, right?

    At some point we are supposed to be able to trust our government to not attempt to harm us, and that’s the real damage this administration has done, destroyed that trust.

    • The destruction of that trust will work to our advantage if only the right would thoughtfully exploit it.

      I haven’t heard of Boolean algebra in years. When I first started working, the search engines used Boolean algorhythms or something like that. No idea what’s used now.

      • It will indeed, if, as you say, it’s exploited thoughtfully, used badly, it could ruin far more than it can save.

        They still do, just have a lot more user friendly interfaces than they used to. We use it for control systems as well, of called logic, I doubt they teach it as math anymore though.

        Kind of the old story, takes a world class PhD to figure out, and a 10 year old to use effectively.

  2. Thanks for the Guacamole recipe. Seriously going on vacation to son’s and he and his fiancée are Guac freaks. Good article, but lest we forget with the Boston Marathon bombers, the friggin Russians gave them up on a silver platter to the FBI and we still missed that, no trust, no confidence in the current admin, so don’t trust them on this issue, “data gathering at all”.

    • You’re welcome. Unfortunately, other than for baking bread, cake, and cookies, I rarely measure much when I cook. Whipped cream and custard, yes. It makes it frustrating to try to write down a recipe that results from experimenting. And my guac gets requested a lot.

      I’m beginning to really believe that the careerists and lifers in the government at state, the FBI, the CIA, etc., are holding things at bay. There’s a lot of whistleblowing going on. The timing of this leak cannot be a coincidence. Our intelligence counterparts overseas might consider skipping the official channels and go straight to the operatives if they have that kind of info.

      And, in all seriousness, I used to work in the library of a nationally major medical center. It was part of a university system. Without any sort of structure to find a specific paper or book, looking by hand would have been unbelievably difficult.

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