What do you do with a lake of data? You go fishing. I don’t know the first thing about fishing (I know a little about phishing) so I’m likely to embarrass myself with this metaphor but here goes anyway. You can catch a fish with a worm as bait. You can catch a bigger fish if you use the first fish for bait. Bollocks to that, though, why not make a lure that looks like the little fish so you don’t have to bother with the worm or the little fish? It’s starting to sound a little like cheating to me. You might as well skip the dangling your pole part of the exercise altogether and just go straight to the fishmonger.
Let me see if I can bring this metaphor back on track. Once a government has a bunch of data it can mine it (shit, I should have started with a mining analogy) to find behaviour that might incriminate existing suspects. That seems OK. But then it could use that suspect’s data to identify other people as targets for future surveillance. And then it could write code that searches for people who’ve said similar things or have been in similar places to people it suspects of something on already dubious grounds. And then it could set alerts that trigger whenever some data fulfils those criteria in the future.
So we’ve learned two things:
- I’m shit at metaphor.
- It’s childsplay to imagine how data can (and therefore will) be misused.