My latest Guardian column "Surveillance: You can know too much," explains how collecting too much information on innocent people makes it harder to catch guilty ones:
At a certain point, data gathered to predict the weather overwhelms your capacity to add it to your calculations efficiently, resulting in ever-longer runtimes that give less accurate predictions. It's better to crunch the data needed to calculate tomorrow's weather in 10 minutes (and refine your guess twice an hour) than to shovel so much data into the hopper that you don't get tomorrow's forecast until next week.
The sweet spot lies somewhere between gathering too much information and gathering too little – and the secret to hitting that spot is intelligent, discriminating data-acquisition.
Take London: cover every square inch of the city with CCTVs and you'll get so much information that you'll never make any sense of it. Scotland Yard says that CCTVs help solve fewer than 3% of all crimes, while a study in San Francisco found that at best, criminals simply move out of camera range, while at worst they assume no one is watching.
Similarly, if you take fingerprints from every person who applies for a visa – or worse still, from every person in Britain who has to carry one of the proposed new biometric cards – you will fill the databases with chaff that slows down searches, generates endless false matches, and threatens everyone in the database with the worst kind of identity theft.
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China’s nightmarish “citizen scores” system uses your online activity, purchases, messages, and social graph to rate your creditworthiness and entitlement to services. One way your score can be plunged into negative territory is for a judge to declare you to be a bad person (mostly this happens to people said to have refused to pay […]
The current pre-clearance rules for Canadians being processed through US immigration at Canadian airports limit the powers of US immigration officials, preventing them from strip-searching Canadians (they can ask Canadian border guards to do it, but if the Canadian guards refuse, they’re out of luck) and giving Canadians the ability to turn around and leave […]
The Lightning port has thus far resisted the cruel fate that befell the headphone jack, and despite rumors that it may be disappearing come iPhone 8, for the present and foreseeable future, Lightning cables are a hot commodity for iPhone users. As such, we must make do in this strange time in which long, glorified […]
All the filters in the world won’t save your smartphone pics from a shaky hand. To really step up your mobile photography game, you’ll need some kind of mount to hold it steady. You could buy a smartphone attachment for a conventional camera tripod, but who wants to carry that kind of gear everywhere they […]
The forced transition from analog to digital TV signals was probably met with relative indifference from people with Netflix subscriptions and the “I don’t even own a TV” snoots. But anyone living in the vast swaths of the country that don’t have guaranteed high-speed internet, broadcast TV is a perfectly valid (and 100% free) way […]