Buddy of mine showed me that headline on Wednesday (read about it here).
I pointed out to him that that was rather a large amount of data. I think I actually said, "Scott, that's a crap ton of data!" As in, no way they could go through all of it, every day. In addition to all of the other electronic data they collect.
"But they have computer programs that sift through all of that data very rapidly."
I stood there in silence for a moment, then offered, "Dude, we're software guys, we both know how difficult it is to write really efficient, fast code. Do you realize how complex that code has to be to go through all of that data?"
"But they hire really good programmers to..."
"Wait a minute there Scott. Do you realize how little the government pays its ordinary employees? Hell, we make more than most of them. Besides all the really sh!t hot programmers work for Google, or one of the big game companies. That's where the money is."
"Dude, think about how the government works. I mean really, do you think that the guys who brought us the non-functioning ObummerCare website could actually hire people to write code so sophisticated as to go through hundreds of terabytes of data a day and extract really useful, actionable intelligence?"
While I may be underestimating the capabilities of government computer programmers (after all, I used to be one of those), we sometimes give too much credence to the whole "Big Brother is watching, government is all powerful" meme. They may be watching somebody, but typically it's not Joe Average citizen, that kind of surveillance gets expensive in a big hurry.
Unless of course, you've done something to show up on the government's radar. Like threaten to blow something up. The software is sophisticated enough to "listen" for key words and phrases and flag those conversations. But then a human needs to dig through the data and determine if it really is a threat.
So let's not all panic at once. Too many people see the NSA and other intelligence agencies like this -
|The All Seeing Eye of Sauron in Mordor|
But don't think for a minute that U.S. intelligence agencies are like this guy -
|Wile E Coyote on the Lookout for the Road Runner|
As always the truth lies somewhere in between those two extremes. For the most part these folks are pretty much like us. Their commute to work probably sucks worse than the average American's (have you ever driven in DC traffic?) They worry about paying their bills and count the days until they get to go on vacation.
Just like the rest of us.
So yeah, they're more like this -
So yeah, definitely not like these guys -
Nope, the intelligence agencies are nothing like the IRS. (Just kidding!)