The man who introduced the CIA’s Chief Technology Officer, Ira “Gus” Hunt, at yesterday’s GigaOM Structure:Data conference in New York City thought it would be funny to quip, “If you don’t give a big round of applause for our next speaker, he’s gonna find out and it’s gonna go on your permanent record.” It was supposed to be a little joke, but then Hunt took the stage for his speech on “Big Data,” told everyone that the CIA is now attempting to “collect everything and hang on to it forever,” and suddenly it wasn’t so funny anymore.
Speaking before PowerPoint slides reading things like “It is nearly within our grasp to compute on all human generated information,” Hunt explained very matter-of-factly that it is the CIA’s intention to capture and keep every bit of data citizens now casually and openly share with the world.
“The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time,” Hunt said. “Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.” (Hunt added that “forever” was in quotes in that sentence.)
One of the CIA’s goals, said Hunt, is to be able to use its massive data culls to connect people the same way an Excel spreadsheet connects numbers. “We want a tool, say for people … that explains to me how all these people are related in any number of different ways,” he said.
According to the Huffington Post, Hunt also noted that people should be aware they are “walking sensor platforms”:
“You’re already a walking sensor platform,” he said, nothing that mobiles, smartphones and iPads come with cameras, accelerometers, light detectors and geolocation capabilities.
“You are aware of the fact that somebody can know where you are at all times, because you carry a mobile device, even if that mobile device is turned off,” he said. “You know this, I hope? Yes? Well, you should.”
Hunt’s speech comes on the heels of the recent announcement that the CIA has inked a $600 million deal with Amazon for cloud computing capabilities over the next decade. Though a CIA spokesperson wouldn’t go into the specifics of the Amazon deal, telling Federal Computer Week “the CIA does not publicly disclose details of our contracts,” Hunt said yesterday that the CIA is interested in “peta-scale” supercomputing. A petabyte is equal to 1,125,899,906,842,624 bytes.
In the final moments of his address, Hunt used about 10 seconds to touch on privacy rights. “What’s happened is that technology in this world is moving faster than government or law can keep up,” he said. “It’s moving faster, I would argue, than you can keep up. You should be asking the question of what are your rights and who owns your data. This is a question that I argue you ought to put on the table.”
Yes, we certainly ought to.