27 December 2009

The Too Much Information Age

Too much information is as bad as too little.

As it turns out the would-be terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to bring down a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, was on a list of about 550,000 potential suspects who might qualify for the TSA no-fly list.

What the media seems unable to distinguish between is problems from a lack of information vs. problems from no information. Sure Umar was on a list - but he had not been evaluated as yet to determine if he was a real list. Your most powerful tip for 2010 is in the stack of magazines in Barnes & Noble that you have yet to read. Not only have you not yet read them, you have not figured out which of the tips is THE one that will transform your life in 2010. The government has essentially the same problem finding and making sense of the tetra bytes of information that might be relevant to security.

If we had the capacity to turn all noise into signal, we'd have about half the country sifting through information for real vs. imagined threats. Too much information is at least as bad as too little. It would take you years to read every magazine in Barnes and Noble - and when you were done you'd only know about the current week. Too much information is as useless as too little.

If we were to staff properly to evaluate every potential or reported threat in real time, Osama bin Laden would achieve his goal of bankrupting the country and subordinating all travel and commerce to bureaucracy that had to evaluate every package and person entering the country.

It is still not obvious that anything went wrong in the process that allowed Abdulmutallab into the country. If anything, it was simply a reminder that no one is ever completely safe.

People with bad allergies won't die from, say, milk but could die from their reaction to it. Terrorists won't destroy our way of life but our reaction to them could.

1 comment:

nunya said...

"Nov. 19, 2009 Clear warning Abdulmutallab's father, wealthy Nigerian banker Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, is alarmed by phone call from his son saying it would be their last contact and associates in Yemen would then destroy his phone. Mutullab feared his son was preparing for a suicide mission in Yemen and went to Nigerian officials who took the father to meet with a CIA officer at the U.S. embassy in Nigeria."

Timeline of Terror: Clues in Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's Past
Did officials miss important clues in tracking down Nigerian before failed plot?
Dec. 30, 2009