Tag Archives: big data

Technology Trends in Law Enforcement

Photo of a police officer typing on a laptop computer.There have been a lot of technology updates in law enforcement just in the last five years. Some things such as body cameras are controversial due to privacy issues; others such as Tasers are controversial due to the potential for misuse, but can save lives when used instead of a gun to subdue a suspect. This week I will highlight a few of the newest technologies that are used on the beat and in the back room.

Body Cameras

First there were car mounted cameras, and now more officers are being outfitted with body cameras. The theory is that officers will use greater discretion in their interaction with the public if they know that their actions are recorded, and ideally the public will behave better as well. Granted, they only work if they are turned on and that is still up to the wearer, but there are also back end technology issues to deal with. The Los Angeles Police Department has approximately 9,000 officers, so if each officer recorded on average one hour a day, that would be 9,000 hours of video each day that need to be stored and catalogued. Where is that kept? On a local server or in the cloud? Who is going to extract the exact footage when questions arise? Are the videos tagged such that a query can be run to compare best practices or patterns of abuse? The initial cost of the camera is only the beginning; there are many other considerations.

Tasers

Electronic control devices used by officers today hearken back to the cattle prod, which was invented in the late 1800s. Officers actually used cattle prods in the 1960s to break up unruly crowds, so the device of today is a true technological advance. The modern Taser was patented in 1974 by NASA researcher Jack Cover, for use by law enforcement. The original design used gunpowder to eject electrodes; now they use compressed air or nitrogen gas as a propulsion system. Studies show the voltage can cause cardiac arrest in some people, but the device has been used over the last forty years as an alternative to firearms. There have been concerns expressed about inappropriate use of Tasers; however, when used appropriately they can offer a non-lethal alternative to firearms.

License Plate Readers

Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR) have been in place for close to 10 years and are installed on either police vehicles or on stationary objects such as bridges or signs. These readers take pictures of license plates at the rate of one per second on vehicles traveling up to 100 miles per hour. They commonly use infrared for night vision and the image can be compared with a database to track the movement of a vehicle. They are frequently used at toll-booths, particularly during off hours. I received a notice last year that I owed a toll for crossing the George Washington Bridge into New York and realized that it was for a vehicle registered in my name that my son was driving. When the plate image was captured, it was quickly linked to me through vehicle registration. While they are useful for such applications, there are concerns that the technology may be used to track innocent citizens. In a Wired magazine article earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) uncovered documents that show that the FBI temporarily halted purchase of these devices in 2012 due to privacy concerns. The worry is that agencies such as the FBI might use the devices, algorithms, and data analytics to track a person and even predict their future movements. This is big data analytics at work.

Social Media

Law enforcement agencies are using social media to promote a public image and to engage the public to help solve crimes and find missing persons. It is also used by agencies to track felons who are thought to be in possession of firearms or other items that put them in violation of their parole or probation. Facebook in January announced that it would include Amber Alerts in their news feed to widen the search for missing children.

Thoughts

New technologies enable law enforcement to do their job more efficiently and more effectively. They are still sorting out the privacy issues, but the same is true for GoPro cameras and drones. We need to be deliberate in drawing the line between protecting personal privacy and allowing the use of potentially invasive tools to protect the public and officers.

What are your thoughts? Are there other cool tools that I missed? Are we doing a good job of balancing the use of technology for the greater good and the right to personal privacy? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Spring Cleaning That Dirty Data

Photo of pulling a squeegee across a soapy window on a sunny day.I am in spring cleaning mode this week and plenty of projects around the house need attention. Now that the sun is out, I can see how dirty my windows really are. In addition to physical cleaning, I am also trying to clean up my files and data and I would encourage you to do the same. As January is for resolutions, the arrival of spring is a good tickler for cleaning.

Big Data

There is a lot of talk about big data and the potential for new insights through careful analysis. What we don’t talk about enough is the fact that these brilliant insights will not be possible unless we organize and cleanse the data that we have. The biggest problems are missing data, inaccurate data, and redundant data. Until we clean up these problems the results of our analyses will continue to be flawed.

If you work with customer records, medical records, financial records or other critical data, you should be scrubbing constantly. For the rest of us, we should provide a good annual cleaning, at a minimum. It really all comes down to trust. Do I trust the results I am getting and do I trust the underlying data? If not, it is time to clean.

Missing Data

Information professionals say “garbage in, garbage out.” This is especially applicable to missing data. For example, a form prompts customers to supply their name, address, city, state, and zip code. If some customers fail to provide their zip code, you could never sort with accuracy on that field. If you wanted to send out advertising to a select geographic location based on zip code, you could not. Your data for this task is incomplete and useless. Maintaining strict rules on incoming data can alleviate this problem.

Inaccurate Data

Inaccurate data is even worse than missing data. With missing data, you can see where you have holes even if you cannot sort on that information. With inaccurate data, you could be happily marching down the yellow brick road and not know how bad your results are. You may not even know the extent of the problem. The key to accurate data is to put filters in place so the data is analyzed for accuracy, correct values, and values in the correct field.

Redundant Data

Another problem is redundant data. This can come from poor version control or not replacing old values or information with newer values. As an example, think about your personal digital photo storage. How many times have you stored the same photo? If you are anything like me, you have a copy on your phone, your computer, possibly your tablet, and one or two memory cards. The good news is, if you ever had a device failure then you have plenty of backup sources, but the bad news is you have created redundant data or images. With the introduction of cloud computing, we should be able to synch everything to the cloud and have one clean filtered copy of everything. Unfortunately, there seems to be some lingering trust issues with the cloud, but hopefully we can get beyond that.

Thoughts

Big data can get out of control quickly without well thought out strategies for input, organization, and cleansing. This year, as part of your spring cleaning, identify those areas where you have dirty data and vow to get them under control before it controls you.

Do you have any advice for cleaning big data and keeping it clean? Are there any products that have worked well for you? Cleaning data is harder than cleaning windows but the results can be just as bright.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Managing a Farm Today—Agriculture Uses IT Too

I occasionally research how technology is being applied to different fields. Lately, I have been thinking about how technology is helping agriculture. Obviously others have been thinking the same thing but with more of a profit motive in mind. In May of this year, there was a conference held in Palo Alto, California, titled “Silicon Valley Agtech.” Their tagline is “Silicon Valley AgTech is where technology meets agriculture, Silicon Valley meets the Silicon Prairie, and innovation comes back to the farm.” Their aim is to bring together agriculture technology startups and venture capitalists to try to accelerate the interest and growth of this industry in Silicon Valley. Here are a few technologies that are aiding farmers and ranchers now.

Telematics

Telematics is the combination of telecommunications and informatics. It has to do with sending information to and from a remote object such as a vehicle. The GPS unit in newer cars is one such example of telematics, but the agriculture industry is using it in unique ways. GPS technology in newer tractors and farm implements can tell the driver precisely where to plow, plant, spray, and harvest. Harvest yield information can be uploaded in real time so that a farmer can tell immediately what to expect from his crop. Of course, all of this information exchange is going to result in a larger amount of data to be processed.

Big Data

Information collected in the field will include a new array of data points and could easily move into the area of big data. Some farm service companies are already getting into the cloud services business, specifically to collect, process, and make sense of data points. You can either upload data from the tractor thumb drive or upload the telematics-collected data directly to the service provider. Either way, the service provider stores, analyzes, and creates visualizations to help you understand where you can improve your farming and your crop yield.

Robotics

Farm equipment is not quite to the point where it can drive itself (think Google tractor) but it is getting close. Sprinkler pivots in large farm fields are often computer controlled with a remote or an app and require little human intervention when set up properly. There are farm service companies, however, that are developing tractors and other equipment to operate without a driver. With the telematics mentioned above and smart cameras, they will be able to operate within the parameters and confines of a field. This will free up the farmer to do higher value work such as analyzing the yield report sent by his cloud service provider.

Thoughts

Technology can be used to aid efficiencies in fields (no pun intended) as diverse as agricultural production. This also represents new opportunities for entrepreneurs and IT workers who have a passion for farm production and want to work to increase yields and decrease waste.

Do you know of other fields that are increasing their use of technology in a unique way? Let me know. I am always interested in learning more. 

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at nigh

The Evolution of Record Keeping

Colorful folders fly into your laptopToday’s post is written by Charles Gilman, a current student of the AIM Program. We asked Charles to share his thoughts on his experience with information management.

When I joined the Air Force in 1995, we had two computers in our office— one for our boss and the other to be shared by the rest of us. The shared computer had two main functions: (1) it had MS DOS software which allowed us to record the results of our inspections and download them weekly onto a floppy disk that was sent to a repository each month; (2) it held our medical intelligence (med intel) information which we received from a paramilitary contractor (an expensive one, at that).

The med intel arrived each quarter in a large envelope or a box, if it was a big update. The package contained a disk to upload into the computer and three-hole-punched sheets of paper, including an errata sheet, telling us which pages in these giant binders need to be replaced. You see, for decades, we maintained all med intel in binders under double lock and key. In our office, we secured these binders in the boss’s office in a large, bright red metal footlocker with a white cross on it, and only our boss had the key. This information was classified “secret” so any of us who had to work with the med intel had to have a security clearance. In reality, because the med intel came from the CIA and other assets on the ground, by the time it had been vetted, processed, printed, and sent out to update us, it was months, if not years out of date.

When we connected to the Internet in 1997, it didn’t take long to realize just how obsolete this entire process was. Being able to plug directly into the CIA’s World Factbook, I found it had far more information than what had been contained in our binders. Plus, the information was/is free and updated regularly, so I suggested we stop wasting money on the contractor’s product and use what was already available.

I cannot describe the skepticism towards the Internet in those early days. The absolute resistance to trust computers, much less the Internet, was incredibly intense because so many viewed the Internet as a fad—a toy which was simply a waste of time. Those who were resistant to change argued their case and would rather continue paying thousands of taxpayer dollars per year for out-of-date information (which really wasn’t very exciting anyway—most of the “intel” just listed flora and fauna which had been present for a very long time), instead of using what was available free of charge. I had to print out pages of the Factbook to compare to what we had in our binders to demonstrate how much more information was available.

Back then, I never would have predicted what happened next—our boss loved the change, but she required me to print out those pages to update our binder. I actually wasted several days burning through reams of paper to create our own Factbook (a printed product that could have been ordered from the CIA), before my direct supervisor discovered what I had been doing and brought this insanity to a halt.

Thankfully, we’re far more trusting of computers and electronic information today; although, working for a state agency, I continue to see remnants of that past. We still have staff who print out electronically submitted forms and employees who, rather than e-mailing information, send it by mail and pick up the phone to call and notify the recipient to expect a letter. Electronic security is still a concern, but the sooner we fully buy into electronic media, the sooner we will make greater strides toward sustainability.

Whose Information Is It Anyway?

In a January 7 Wired magazine article titled “How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet”, the author detailed the Edward Snowden leaks, the US National Security Agency (NSA) revelation of widespread information collection, and the indignant outcry from tech companies. The fact remains, however, that there is a trove of personal information that is scanned and analyzed by governments, private companies, and even those with less than honorable intentions. The NSA claims to do it in the name of national security, private companies claim to help make your life better by predicting what information or product you will need next, and the thieves are just in it for themselves. Nevertheless, it comes down to the fact that it is your information, and the question is—how is it that so many people have access to it?

National Security

In the summer of 2013, former NSA IT consultant Edward Snowden revealed documents that showed widespread data collection by the NSA. He did this, of course, after he was safely out of the country and away from potential prosecution. The documents revealed programs designed to collect information from cell phone metadata and also personal information from Internet records kept by companies such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo. Some of it was done through secret court orders and some without the knowledge of the companies just mentioned—all in the name of national security for the purpose of rooting out potential terrorism. The question still remains, however, how and why do these companies have your potential information and for what purpose?

Call For Reform

In a December 9, 2013 open letter to Washington, eight tech companies called for reforms on how information is collected and for more transparency in the collection methods. A couple of things strike me as odd about this proclamation. First of all, transparency has never been a hallmark of spy agencies and it seems ridiculous to even suggest that new reality. Second, the companies that collect personal information are now objecting to someone gathering that data from them?

It All Begins With Me

I have no doubt that the NSA and similar agencies have thwarted potential terrorist attacks by analyzing and acting on the data they collect. I believe that some of the methods are suspect but those agencies believe that they are making the world a safer place. Tech companies that provide social media, communications, and search capabilities also believe that they offer a service by drawing inferences from your personal information and steering you toward goods and services that you may like. Most of all, I believe that responsibility for my own information and my own comfort level in sharing that information lies with me. I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to clicking “I Agree” on that End User Agreement without reading the fourteen screens of fine print. I can’t guarantee that I understand the security policy and opt-out agreements of all of the applications that I use, but I am aware of the options I have and which information is being collected. In a sense, the Internet is still the Wild West and we are still trying to grasp the potential and complexity of it all. The first step in understanding is awareness and education. That is our responsibility.

Thoughts

Have you got it all figured out? Do you know the best methods for keeping you and your personal information safe? If so, I would love to hear from you. If not, we can always learn together.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

 

 

From Green to Blue… and Beyond?

Today’s post is written by Jake Pollack, program manager for the UO Sustainability Leadership Certificate Program.

Over the past few years I have carefully followed not only the colors that are affiliated with sustainability, and their implications, but how sustainability is paired (or not) with technology. So, while it may seem elementary (or primary in the case of blue, and secondary in the case of green—apologies for the educator jokes) the colors point to deeper implications of culture and the blending of different approaches to sustainability and technology. Back in 2009, when I read Andrew Kirk’s Counterculture Green, I started thinking about the historical aspects of the traditional rift between the environmental movement and the world of technology. Having grown up as a nature lover and digital native, I understood the tension between appreciating ecological systems and playing video games, but this, of course, is a much deeper discussion that can’t be covered in one blog entry.

However, what I can chart are some of the recent trends that are promising and point out a few challenges that I see in the future as we move ever deeper into virtual realms where machine-to-machine conversation is the norm, and our dependency on technology is assumed as “natural.” The first of these is the realization that cloud computing has an enormous environmental impact, whether you measure it in terms of water, e-waste, energy consumption, or any other concrete service that is required for large server centers. A recent webinar on Sustainable Industries describes this infrastructure and examples of the continuous improvement and innovation required to make these ventures efficient. A GreenBiz article describes a Stanford study which found that one-tenth of all electricity consumed in the US goes towards the Internet, and reports on the Future of Internet Power group, which is a response by Adobe, eBay, Facebook, HP, salesforce.com, and Symantec to “identify and publicize best practices around low-carbon power-sourcing for data centers in the United States.” Finally, Apple recently announced it will build a giant solar farm to power its Nevada datacenter.

This aspect of greening the cloud is important as big data seems to be on course to grow continuously, and it shows that the major players in both hardware and cloud-based software recognize this as an opportunity in the midst of an unpredictable and volatile energy market. The main challenge actually goes back to the deeper implications of culture and thinking about what all this computing power is actually used for and who is using it. In other words, the question remains whether to put this incredible computing power to use for further preservation and maintenance of the living systems of our planet, or to continue disseminating kitten videos across the Internet. At this time, that seems an oversimplification, but my guess is that in the future, we’ll be paying much more careful attention to the end uses of data and have to make some difficult decisions about these results. In light of cities moving to models of resilience and the recent release of President Obama’s climate commitments, there will be major implications for technology resources as well as the information that is passed through those networks.

 

Jake Pollack

Jake has worked in sustainability leadership settings internationally for the last six years in higher education and is currently the program manager for the UO Sustainability Leadership Certificate Program. He has mentored and trained students and professionals in aspects of sustainability ranging from cross-cultural communication to organizational transformation. His PhD research examined interdisciplinary and collaborative models of sustainability and a new triple bottom line of resilience, integrity, and commitment. Though his work in the field began in ecovillages and grassroots centers of innovation, he is now interested in the scale of cities and cultivating a cross-sector platform for professionals who wish to accelerate and incubate projects that address our most significant sustainability challenges.

The Internet of Things: Is Your Refrigerator on the Internet?

I have been thinking lately about “The Internet of Things.” This is really more a concept than a tangible device or product. It is kind of like the cloud. The theory is that physical objects will each have their own identity and will be connected to the Internet and be able to communicate with other physical devices also on the Internet. This is all possible today but here is the thing that concerns me: if each device creates and broadcasts data such as its location and condition, how do we process all of that information? We are already drowning in man-made data as it is.

Definition

According to Techopedia, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is a computing concept that describes a future where everyday physical objects will be connected to the Internet and will be able to identify themselves to other devices.”

Current State

According to TechTarget, “The technologies for an Internet of Things are already in place. Things, in this context, can be people, animals, servers, applications, shampoo bottles, cars, steering wheels, coffee machines, park benches, or just about any other random item that comes to mind.” Can you think of physical objects that you would like to be connected? Can you think of objects that you hope never become connected?

All That Data

With all of the data pouring in from all of these physical objects, how are we going to be able to process everything? How are we going to be able to make sense of everything and characterize all of this data into a form that we can understand? Can this all be boiled down to a visualization? Does it need to be? Am I thinking too humancentric?

Thoughts

I believe that it is no accident that “Big Data” and “The Internet of Things” are being discussed in the same space and time. It is almost as if they are meant for each other. The Internet of Things will create Big Data, but we need to look beyond our human construct. We need to work on ways to automate the extraction and filtering of data as well as the decision making based on that filtered data. If we think beyond the notion that we as humans have to touch and understand and make every decision, then we free ourselves to apply our unique capabilities to the intractable problems of the world. Physical objects can make rational decisions that benefit themselves. For example, could your coffeemaker consult your calendar to determine the likelihood of your presence? Could your calendar broadcast to other devices as well? Consider the efficiencies gained by stepping out of that decision-making process. We are cognitive beings that can better spend our time on real problems.

Do you take a utopian or dystopian view of this future? Are we headed toward the Jetsons or toward 1984’s Big Brother? Can we really figure out what to do with all of the data that is coming? Let me know your thoughts.

 

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.

The Dark Side of IT

There has been a lot in the news lately about spying and the associated technologies used to aid said spying. Because of a leak by a contractor, it has been revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has used a number of different technologies, including e-mail and phone surveillance, to spy on enemies of the state as well as regular citizenry identified as potential terrorists.

Technologies

In a recent New York Times post, author Vikas Bajaj suggests that “consumers have traded convenience for privacy”. We have the technology already to track the Internet activity of an individual. This includes e-mail archives and digital phone records, including conversations. With the advent of digital consumer technology, storing 1’s and 0’s is easy and increasingly more affordable with efficient data storage. The tools around big data make it easier to sort and pinpoint a particular thread. It is easy to capture, easy to store, and easy to sort. As an Internet consumer, is there more that we should know about these tools to be informed of our privacy and dealings?

Responsibility

When it comes to digital surveillance, what is our responsibility as a consumer? What is our responsibility as an IT practitioner? As a consumer of all things digital, I think it is our responsibility to understand the extent of which our presence is being tracked and understand that our activity on the Internet is not as private as we think. Think before you share all of your deepest, darkest secrets on Facebook. The old adage applies—“never do anything you wouldn’t want your mom to read about in the morning paper.” As IT practitioners, we may be called upon to gather data or turn over records to comply with a subpoena or court order. It is our responsibility to understand to what extent our customers and employees are protected in terms of privacy. Do you understand your company’s privacy policies? Are your customers and their records protected to some extent?

Solutions

The first solution is mentioned above and that is: be a smart consumer. Understand your presence on the Internet. Understand which sites provide a basic level of security and understand how your information moves about the Internet. The second is to understand and employ encryption techniques. This is especially important when handling customer personally identifiable information or PII. Make sure that this data is encrypted within your systems and while traveling across the network. Keep your own personal information secure and encrypted as well. Also, as an IT professional and a citizen of the cloud, you need to understand some of the techniques for preserving data such as private networks and private cloud computing.

Thoughts

Be aware before you share. Of course, all of the technology in the world is not going to stop your information from being extracted via a court order and, hopefully, you are never in that situation. For us upstanding citizens, it is imperative that we know how we are protected and how private and confidential our conversations and data really are or are not.

Do you stop to think about your privacy? Let me know your thoughts.

 

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.