Big Data, Surveillance and the end…

President Obama continues to defend the illegal spying on Americans by the NSA.  The administration has had apologists from both sides of the aisle out in force.  Have you ever seen a time when Dick Cheney, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are all singing from the same hymnal?   All sides defending the policy and supporting an epic executive power grab.

Where is the outrage in the media?  The NSA spying, on the coattails of the AP records subpoena, and the IRS targeted auditing scandal?   Ho-Hum, just another day on the road toward totalitarianism.  Hyperbole?   Take a moment and Google General Keith Alexander.  General Alexander may be the most dangerous and powerful man in the U.S. Army; the operator in charge of the NSA and a number of other military controlled alphabet soup agencies… 

Where are the folks that were so angry at what they saw as abuse of power by George W. Bush?   Where are the conservative tea party fanatics that are convinced that president Obama is the devil?  All are conspicuously silent.   I cannot believe that every single, thinking person with a grasp of history is not appalled by the expansion of executive power and the surveillance society that is accompanying it.  Is anyone asking who benefits when the citizenry relinquishes freedom in exchange for imagined security?

Democrats and Republicans that can’t agree on simple things like the value of balancing the budget or how to manage immigration but they have no problem getting together to authorize the illegal seizure of your personal information, all in the name of national security.   What will it take to spark the outrage necessary to take back our liberty?   Satellites blanket the earth and private companies are launching more and more low orbiting satellites, ostensibly to monitor all sorts of things from traffic congestion to weather conditions, are being launched daily; If looking up and seeing cameras on every street corner in every major city is disconcerting, knowing that government is intercepting our telephone calls and reading our email, is it a stretch to believe that they are watching from the eye in the sky?  This is not paranoid, conspiracy theory, this is the reality of the United States of America that we now inhabit. 

The media has been complicit in this entire affair.   The media has not cried foul while the federal government runs roughshod over our rights; the media barely peeped when their own, beloved, first amendment was trampled by the subpoena of numerous AP records.   Does anyone care?   Is anyone scared of the possible outcomes?

It is staggering how easily we cede our rights and how little concern we have for the personal freedom that our forebears fought so hard to guarantee.   Our freedom is under attack from many sides and all in the name greater domestic security. I would much rather face a bit more uncertainty and the threat of danger than to be constantly monitored by an oppressive government.  Assuming a bit risk is so much appealing than living in an Orwellian fantasy.

I am a patriot, I believe in the Constitution and I am disgusted by the tyranny that is being forced upon us by our leadership.  I fear that totalitarian rule is inevitable.  It will follow a great tragedy that results in the necessity for martial law- once that happens there will be no turning back.  The United States will be no more….

Are you concerned?  Do you care?  What do you think we should do to take back our nation?

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Can the Digerati Save the Constitution?

We are the digerati.  Not the youthful millennials, who never knew a world without high-speed data , we are first generation digerati.  We are educated wealthy and poised to lead.  We were destined to be lazy, entitled, slackers, yet we redefined the world.  We brought about a great leap forward in technology.  Now we must act to prevent our government from using our technology to bring about the destruction of the very freedoms that technology represents.

As children we lived with the specter of nuclear annihilation, we saw the pain of Vietnam in the eyes of our fathers and regaled about the heroism of the allies in WWII at the knees of our grandparents.  One must consider the faces of mid-century evil, Hitler and Stalin, when recalling the history of WWII.  The Gestapo and the KKVD carried out the will of the leadership without regard for law, ethics or morality- the will of the state was supreme, and the state was the ruler.

What connects the horrors of the middle twentieth century to the current era?  Fear.   The desire for security brought Hitler, Stalin and many others to power.   Today we have a leader that has publicly stated that we must cede our constitutionally guaranteed rights in exchange for security.  History has not been kind to the citizens of nations that have chosen security over freedom.   I believe the words of Benjamin Franklin sum it up well, “those that surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”   We have allowed our freedoms to be taken from us the same way that the Germans and Russians succumbed to the siren song of security.

We initiated the technological revolution that enabled our government to violate the Constitution; we sat idly by while our freedoms were usurped.  We didn’t innovate in order to be watched and monitored; we are a generation looking to shrink the world and create peace through openness and transparency.  We built it and now it is time for us to take responsibility.   We must show our true colors:  Are we the slackers that we were expected to be or do we have what it takes to return our nation to the path of a free republic?  Do we care enough to engender revolution?  Will we simply keep our heads in the sand and allow all of our freedom to disappear,  leaving our children a dystopian legacy that even George Orwell couldn’t have imagined.

We have a choice to make:  do nothing and allow tyranny to reign or to take up whatever means necessary to overthrow those in power that wish to rob us of our freedom.   The Constitution is our source code and we must defend it against the virus of treasonous leadership.  Are you ready to fight?  How far are you willing to go to save our nation?

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Big Data and the Erosion of Privacy

The Wall Street Journal’s CEO council recently published an article about the benefits and perils of restricting Big Data and what role governments should play.  The article, linked at the bottom, suggests that policies need to be defined around security and privacy and that the government should define what data are legal/illegal and that consumers should have a voice in what information is public and private.   The article goes on to suggest that cybersecurity standards should be established jointly between public and private sector and that the U.S. should take the lead in creating a Global Data Treaty defining universal standards on data privacy and ownership.

The definition of Big Data is very nebulous.   It is a concern any time government becomes involved in creating standards around a new or developing technology, even more so when that arena is as ill defined as Big Data.   The day may come when we have an accepted definition of Big Data, but until that point it seems premature to begin regulating and policing something that we can’t even define.

Over the last two decades we have been transformed into an always on, always connected society and in the process we have agreed to give up any expectation of privacy.   Consider how many times you have clicked through a privacy statement, tapped “ok” when your device asks for permission to use your location, logged on to public Wi-Fi networks, scanned an affinity card at a retail outlet,  add in Facebook posts, tweets, LinkedIn updates and the plethora of other social media outlets and the myth of privacy quickly evaporates. We live in a post privacy society that longs to have standards and regulations to provide a shimmering illusion of protection.

Big Data is not the culprit; it is the culmination of small, seemingly innocent, actions over the course of many years colliding with technology that has the capacity to correlate that information into actionable intelligence.   We have an abundance of privacy laws in the U.S. and adding more would be redundant. While international treaties on cybersecurity and privacy may provide an illusion safety the truth is that the bad guys will not abide by the rules so why bother going through the motions.

A more interesting discussion would be why, after volunteering gigabytes and terabytes of personal information, the issue of privacy is at the center of the Big Data discussion?  What is or should be private in the post privacy age?   I am very interested in feedback on this topic and will be diving deeper into these questions in upcoming posts…

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Is Big Data a Dumb Idea?

I recently read an article about buzzwords, with a focus on “big data”.  I began considering how buzzwords enter the lexicon and how we can communicate concepts and big ideas more clearly.  Is it possible to communicate complex and wide ranging ideas in just a few words?

I am laughing I write this post.  Just this morning, over breakfast, my daughter said something about not liking a book she was reading.  I asked her what about the book she didn’t like and she responded, “It’s dumb”.   We have an ongoing conversation which goes something like this.

Me:  “What do you mean by dumb?”

Her: “Just dumb, Dad.”

Me: “I don’t get, “dumb”, can you help me understand exactly what you mean?”


I am then rewarded with and explanation of, “dumb”, in a specific context.   I have this dialogue with my teenage daughter because I want her to be able to clearly verbalize her thoughts and ideas to others.

My initial reaction, to seeing “big data” described as an overused buzzword, was that “big data” is simple way to convey a very complex set of ideas.  My reaction led me to consider how “dumb” I really am.   When we hear terms like “big data” or “dumb” we immediately make assumptions about meaning of those words, regardless of what the actual intention behind the words might be.

What is “big data”?  Wikipedia says that “big data” is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools.”   When I hear “big data” my definition goes well beyond the size of the data set, into the technology capabilities that are currently and will soon be available to rapidly store, process and analyze unimaginable amounts of information.

To me “big data” represents an enormous, barely tapped, repository of information, that, when combined with the right people and tools can be leveraged to generate insights into behaviors that have never before been available.   The ability to analyze and correlate terabytes, petabytes, soon exabytes of data will impact every aspect of our lives from how much we pay for insurance to how much attention one gets walking through airport security.  The economic and social implications of “big data” are staggering.  Does the term, “big data”, encompass the enormity of the idea of “big data?

What is your definition of “big data”?   Please share your thoughts.


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