Our Friend Big Data

Today we in Boston woke to news that one of the two suspects in the Marathon bombing had been killed.  The other, his brother, was being chased down. Watertown and Waltham are locked down and Wayland is just two hops away from the search.

I think how the Police identified the brothers is a great example of how Big Data can help us. As a computer guy, I’ve seen the decline in privacy caused by digital footprints we leave behind: credit cards, EZ Passes, cell phones, etc. Finally we are seeing the peace dividend from all this data.

A couple of things came together in the Boston marathon investigation.  First, there were thousands of cameras taking geocoded and timestamped photographs at the blast locations.  These photos were collected (voluntarily) and paired up with video from a few security cameras.  Add tons of computing horsepower with sweet pattern recognition algorithms and you can reconstruct the entire scene like a 3D movie.

So now we have a new weapon in our fight against terrorism.  If we (the people) are OK with more surveillance in public places, it will be really difficult to do something awful without getting caught.