Things we’ll never know


I received the following note from a friend the other day:

Interesting way to present information.

And indeed it is.

A scrolling time line allows the user to sequence through a series of news articles. In this instance, it is the news reports and events related to the Bush administration’s efforts related to the War on Terror. The left-most scroll bar allows the reader to quickly shift through the years, while a finer-grained bar just to the right allows one to shift through the months. As a usability feature, months that have stories are highlighted. The text area on the right then summarizes news items related to the main thread of the time line for that month. News items often have links to the source material.

In going through the time line I came across an interesting article about the NSA’s surveillance on Americans. What caught my attention was the line “…It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world.” To elaborate on what constitutes this largest database ever, the news article referenced [click here] includes statements such as:

The agency’s [NSA] goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders…[note: Just to be clear, the NSA is collecting data about the calls–telephone numbers, date, time of day, etc–not a transcript of the conversations within the calls]

For the customers of these companies [AT&T, Verizon and Bell South], it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers’ names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA’s domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.

It sounds like a lot of data. Obviously, my first question is which database product is being used? DB2? MS-SQL? 10G? An important question in my life as so often a technology vendor will cite large installations to demonstrate the scale their product can support. But will any admit to hosting this database? Sadly, I suspect we will never know. What vendor will be willing to claim to be the hosting technology for this use that has come under so much controversy.

If only we lived in a society that condoned such activity by government for the people by the people, this product information would not be needlessly censored. May be we do, but are just unwilling to admit it in public and thus such non-disclosure only demonstrates further the hypocrisy of the whole situation.


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