A needle without context …

… is nothing more than a straw in a haystack.

While reviewing some articles of the last years, I found an interesting study from 2011.
Entitled “Public Security: Simulation Need to Replace Conventional Wisdom“, that study proves a commonplace: Data without context is nothing.
The scientists asked themselves how terrorists can be found by analyzing communication data without prior or contextual knowledge.

First, they found that (hit) probabilities do not increase with the volume of analyzed data, i.e. the bigger the haystack the smaller the relative chance to find the needle.

Second, they could not confirm that certain data patterns look different among very different scenarios. That means, that data filters are not capable to discern the preparation of a terrorist attack from an event like the planning of a wedding. Both events they have a very similar communication pattern in terms of communication frequency, period, and structure. Even the filter’s fine-tuning does not improve the hit rate. It’s rather that fine tunig decreases the possibility to find conspicious communication hierarchies.
That’s why context matters (as we know)!

Finally, this study strengthens the argument against “data dragnets” as well as preemptive data collection and storing.
The scientists even indicate that a schedule of 2 weeks up to 3 months delivers much more hit sensitivity than longer schedules.


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