Using Database Technology to Fight Terrorism{9}

by Alii S
We all remember September 11th. We remember where we were, what we were doing, and most importantly what happened. After the events of that day, America subsequently went into war with Afghanistan and Iraq in order to catch the perpetrator, Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al-Qaeda at the time. After 12 years of looking, he had finally been caught, and America had seen some justice finally done. The elements that went into finding this man were obviously lots of manpower, in the form of soldiers, intelligence workers, sources, and the list goes on. One of the elements were technology, more specifically, databases.

Sure, that last paragraph may have been a bit anti-climatic toward the end, but databases are the one way where our information is collectively stored, processed, and retrieved. This information is gathered based on common terrorist activity, and stored in data warehouses. Terrorists require travel, so things such as passport numbers, Visas, flight entries and departures, and even photographs and fingerprints are stored into databases. They also need to communicate with one another, and after the Patriot Act was passed in the US, intercepted calls and e-mails are stored into databases as well. Monetary transactions are also stored in databases, such as purchases greater than $10,000 and bank information is also stored.

There is so much information to draw from, and all of this information has been prepared over such a long period, that sometimes the data inevitably gets outdated, cluttered, and disorganized. We all know just how disorganized the US government can be, especially after seeing the whole Obamacare website fiasco, so we can just imagine how disorganized the databases of information have been. There are many ways to re-optimize a database, but there are three that will fix many problems.

First, by consolidating the data into one database, there is not as much scattered information that must be looked for, and not as much resources or time would have to be spent for one query. The Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency have databases of different information, as well as some of the same information, and having things spread across multiple databases can cause lots of inefficiency.

Secondly, dirty data must be cleansed. Dirty data, or data that is erroneous, mistyped, or outdated should be fixed in all databases that have them. Not only can they mislead the person running the query, but in the case of counter-terrorism, a lot of time would be wasted finding out it is wrong information, time that is crucial.

Lastly, data must be reorganized. Have you ever saved a file for a class somewhere, and somewhere down the line, you make a folder for that class and save more files in that folder? The initial file you saved, which is not in the folder, is now misplaced and chances are high that it won’t be found anytime soon. Lost intelligence files are apparently commonplace according to Won Kim, who wrote a piece on U.S. Homeland Security and Database Technology.

One solution to all of these possible problems is a project the Defense Intelligence Agency has been working on since 2008, called A-Space. The goal of A-Space is to create a website (obviously running on a safe Intranet) similar to Facebook, but instead of talking about your weekend, matters of national security are discussed and classified files are freely shared. This provides one centralized database that everyone can draw from, and everyone can edit (inspired by Wikipedia), so that the information is up to date as well. There is also no chance of losing any files because all files shared are files that are needed at the moment, and files needed later on could be re-requested.

Of course having a database on an entire country, much less your own, has a few drawbacks. If you have ever read George Orwell’s 1984, then it’s quite apparent as to what spying on one’s own nation deals with. Even if things are nowhere near that proportion at the moment, one has to think that Americans in the name of counter-terrorism are slowly giving up their privacy rights, and without our permission as well. Aside from the privacy infringement however, there is also the fact that a relatively handful number of people have to sift through tens of millions of people’s information to narrow down possible terrorist activity. And through sifting through these tens of millions of people, if a standard is set such as racial or religious profiling to cut down on the number of people being looked at, this can cause serious issues with the people being profiled, and even more conflict will arise.

In the end, databases play an integral role in counter-terrorism. It provides the information needed for the people involved to properly perform their jobs, and using an optimized database platform, important things can be done much more quickly and efficiently. Although keeping an enormous data bank on the citizens of your own country may cause some serious ethical issues, one must draw the line on how to defend the country, but also how to defend the rights of the people.