Tuesday, February 14, 2006
21% of American's are terror suspects!
If you didn't already know that opinion polls are about as useless as a looking for a conservative on the UW campus, then maybe this will prove it to you. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released today found that 21% of those polled said it very likely or somewhat likely their conversations had been wiretapped. So you ask yourself, why does this 21% think they have been wired tapped? They are in fact terror suspects? They're on an FBI or Homeland Security watch list? They have broken the law before or partake in legally questionable activities? Or 210 of 1000 randomly called adults across the US actually believe the government taps every single phone line and cell transmission in the country, all the time every day! Pretty much any one of these reasons these 210 would have for their answer is scary, but lets assume its the last one!
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there are 190 million main telephone lines in the United States as of 2002. In 2003 the FCC estimated that those lines accounted for about 80 billion hours of phone calls. Of course, cell phones usage minutes have surpassed land lines by a wide margin but I couldn't find an exact number. There is around 200 million cell subscribers in the US, with around 400 million individual cell phones. Worldwide the total is around 1.5 Billion cells phones. We will just assume the cell phone usage, in terms of minutes, is equal to the land lines...so another 80 Billion hours. We won't even consider foreign cell phones used within the US. Then you need some compute intensive software that can evaluate voice transmissions of land line and cell quality audio (meaning not so good, so it must have enhancement algorithms which are also compute intensive). The software must also account for accents and different pronunciations of words. You must store all the audio you haven't yet scanned for hits. And keep in mind you can't just search for a word at a time. Finding just the word "bomb" in a conversation would give too many false positives (like "she was the bomb" or "I had the chocolate bomb for desert") so you need to search for phrases and combinations of words. And all this "listening" to be useful must alert someone to a HIT fairly quickly else its meaningless. How quick? You could argue and hour, a day, of the conversation happening. But a week, or a month, or longer and it becomes useless. Take 160 Billion yearly hours of audio and the amount of audio you must scan this way daily is 438,000,000 hours! Keep in mind you are going to execute something between a few hundreds thousand and a million lines of software code against this audio. It can't possibly run real time because the same audion snippet might branch to other parts of code and be run again as the pattern matching is done. This of course assumes that you have every carrier (land and cell) working with the government so as to push all this audio to the computers that do this work. The other option would be that the government has a 2nd wire for all 190 land lines going to their own equipment, as well as hundreds of thousands of cell antennas around the US along with special equipment to capture all the cell transmissions. In either case you couldn't involve that many people (govt or private people), or that much equipment, without a lot of people spilling the beans on this vast conspiracy! My 24 years of computer industry experience says the US government couldn't do this if they used every piece of hardware from every government agency together let alone just the NSA or all security related agencies...Nope, sorry, just not possible.