The Growing use of Big Data at Intelligence Agencies


The typical Hollywood portrayal of spywork makes the field appear a lot more glamorous than it really is. For better or worse, intelligence agencies really feature a lot of sorting through files, documents, numbers, and other data, most of it done in office buildings with employees hunched over computers. While the work may seem mundane on the surface, that in no way takes away from its importance. Intelligence agencies face a tremendous challenge as they attempt to identify criminals and possible terrorists before something catastrophic happens. Finding these persons of interest take a great deal of effort, but many intelligence agencies may see a boost as they slowly adopt the latest big data analytics technologies. It’s this gradual adoption of big data that can lead to them becoming more effective in detecting threats and finding culprits.

By their very nature, intelligence agencies have had to deal with data. For most of their existence, this data came in the form of good old fashioned paper. Files were scrutinized, sorted, and deciphered at a meticulous level, and simply getting hold of this information could require plenty of time and resources. However, a revolutionary transformation has occurred in the past two decades as data around the world has migrated to the digital realm. Big data is known by the sheer size of data sets, not to mention the frequency with which it is collected and the various sources that data comes from. It’s easier now more than ever to gather this data, and while that part of the job has been alleviated, intelligence agencies now have a lot more information to sift through.

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Of course this isn’t without its own brand of controversy. Government surveillance of its citizens strikes at the very heart of every debate surrounding privacy and national security. Many privacy advocates wonder if it’s worth it for intelligence agencies to monitor millions of innocent citizens just to catch a few who may be guilty or who may commit crimes in the future. Obviously, this debate will remain a heated contest for many years to come.

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