Ever since Neuromancer, people have wanted real cyberspace — a visual display that correlates all the information out there and shows you the underlying patterns, no longer hidden by visual appearance of disunity. Here’s one stab at it:
The day Fikri drives to Orlando, he gets a speeding ticket, which triggers an alert in the CIA’s Palantir system. An analyst types Fikri’s name into a search box and up pops a wealth of information pulled from every database at the government’s disposal. There’s fingerprint and DNA evidence for Fikri gathered by a CIA operative in Cairo; video of him going to an ATM in Miami; shots of his rental truck’s license plate at a tollbooth; phone records; and a map pinpointing his movements across the globe. All this information is then displayed on a clearly designed graphical interface that looks like something Tom Cruise would use in a Mission: Impossible movie.
As the CIA analyst starts poking around on Fikri’s file inside of Palantir, a story emerges. A mouse click shows that Fikri has wired money to the people he had been calling in Syria. Another click brings up CIA field reports on the Syrians and reveals they have been under investigation for suspicious behavior and meeting together every day over the past two weeks. Click: The Syrians bought plane tickets to Miami one day after receiving the money from Fikri. To aid even the dullest analyst, the software brings up a map that has a pulsing red light tracing the flow of money from Cairo and Syria to Fikri’s Miami condo. That provides local cops with the last piece of information they need to move in on their prey before he strikes.
Fikri isn’t real—he’s the John Doe example Palantir uses in product demonstrations that lay out such hypothetical examples. The demos let the company show off its technology without revealing the sensitive work of its clients. Since its founding in 2004, the company has quietly developed an indispensable tool employed by the U.S. intelligence community in the war on terrorism. Palantir technology essentially solves the Sept. 11 intelligence problem. The Digital Revolution dumped oceans of data on the law enforcement establishment but provided feeble ways to make sense of it. – Business Week
While all the chattering bloviators are wailing about SOPA being the end of the world, there’s more of a real story in the increasing inability to hide from the databases.