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Technology

Hard truths in age of terrorism and the place of data

information
The current state of technology as regards information collection and analysis is sufficiently advanced to give tangible daily living benefit to citizens. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The world is no longer what it used to be. The flow of information in decades gone by was slower, restricted, even shielded by several factors unlike today where its collection, analysis and dissemination can be near real-time.

Tuesday, January 15, was another dark day for Kenya when terror reigned supreme at one of Nairobi’s most iconic business addresses — 14 Riverside Drive.

My mind goes into overdrive thinking about the permutations on causation and outcomes, given what we know publicly and also that which is steeped in ‘intelligence’ secrecy that eventually leaks out.

Unfortunately we are back at the table discussing surveillance, personal data and privacy protection in the context of national security.

The current state of technology as regards information collection and analysis is sufficiently advanced to give tangible daily living benefit to citizens and to inform an enriched national security data pipeline.

Do not be mistaken to think that our intelligence apparatus is ill equipped.

On the contrary, they are very well setup and collaboration with allies on intelligence matters has averted and continues to thwart innumerable risks.

However, when speaking data, nothing beats quality, variety and volume when it comes to refining the collective gut of an intelligence operation, allowing for even the most minute signals to register and inform a decision.

We have a lot of data, structured and unstructured sitting in silos across the country generated by individuals and businesses alike.

Think in context of the millions in daily retail transactions, terabytes of closed circuit television content, building access logs, property market information, mobile network data, Internet service provider logs, financial services metadata and smartphone data, to cover but a few.

There are meaningful relationships between these datasets across people, places, things, and events that can be surfaced using artificial intelligence and applied towards matters of national or local neighbourhood security.

‘Surveillance states’ like China and the more diplomatic United States are on the higher spectrum of implementation of various programmes that are viewed as infringing on personal freedoms in the way that they operate.

Sitting in Nairobi, I wonder loudly; could we scratch our own itch, take the best that technology has to offer and with citizen contractors, tropicalise the tech in a way that is open, relatable and agreeable to the majority population’s sensibilities and peace of mind? Perchance.

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