CIA CTO: We want your data and will keep it forever

By Graeme Burton
21 Mar 2013 View Comments
Big data concept

"It is nearly within our grasp to compute on all human generated information."

That was the standout claim by the chief technology officer of the CIA, Ira Hunt, who said that with the world positively swimming in digital information it is the US intelligence agency's aim to capture and store it all: emails, phone calls, Tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos - the lot.

Further reading

In the process, it expects to be able to analyse all the data it collects using big data techniques in order to be able to work out patterns and, perhaps, to identify risks.

"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," said Hunt. He added: "Since you cannot connect dots you don't have, it drives us into a mode of fundamentally trying to collect everything and hang on to it forever."

Hunt was speaking at the GigaOM Structure:Data conference in New York, where he raised the prospect of analysing the data using an in-memory database running on a computer with one petabyte memory.

Hunt continued: "It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human-generated information... You're already a walking sensor platform."

People can easily be tracked by their mobile phones, he said, even when they are switched off. And people dropped "digital breadcrumbs" all over the place without even realising it.

Hunt was speaking just days after the CIA signed at $600m (£400m), 10-year deal to buy cloud computing services from Amazon, according to a report in the US publication, Federal Computer Weekly - which both Amazon and the CIA refused to comment on.

According to the report, Amazon Web Services will help the CIA to put together its own private cloud infrastructure, although the organisation is also looking to other private-sector organisations to help update and augment its technology.

Furthermore, Hunt has spoken in the past about using Amazon's public cloud infrastructure for storing non-classified information.

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