So What Is Big Data Good For, Anyway?

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Think Big Data is some indecipherable discipline completely divorced from your everyday concerns? Or maybe you know that it does some good, but you’re not quite sure what that good actually is? Well, police forces, the military, and intelligence agencies are using surveillance and big data analytics every day to fight terrorism abroad and closer to home. Big Data is quite literally keeping us safer. Here are a couple of examples showing exactly how:

Using software to analyse information gathered from terrorist manuals (of the sort ISIS is quite fond of spreading to its followers), intelligence agencies are providing invaluable intel to counter-terrorism forces around the world. Software engineers are hard at work to create “geographic profiling” tools by modifying existing mapping solutions to show exactly which areas are at higher risk for terrorist activity, or where terrorists are likely to be hiding their weapons caches, their bomb making facilities, and their physical persons.

Building Intent, a specialty geoprofiling programme developed for the US defence department, employed data from Al-Qaeda’s “Declaration of Jihad Against the Country’s Tyrants” on what sort of buildings the masterminds recommend to use to determine executors’ likely whereabouts. Quite often, such groups are hesitant to conduct operations away from “homebase” – due to familiarity with territory, time constraints, and intimate knowledge of the workings of local security apparatuses – making analysing their actions in this manner both incredibly useful, and with the increasing sophistication of the technology, easier with each day.


Our other example is somewhat more localised. Take Vigilant Solutions, a company that photographs license plates. They do it a lot. To day, they’ve taken roughly 2.2 billion photos of license plates. They capture about 80 million geotagged images each month. This may seem like a bit of a hit to privacy, but the advantages to law enforcement are phenomenal. As the whereabout of known and unknown criminals and terrorists are stored indefinitely, this data has already proven incredibly useful for solving crimes. From something as minor as a traffic misdemeanour, to tracking the location of a dangerous fugitive – there’s a reason why over 3,000 law enforcement agencies employ Vigilant’s services – they work.

There are countless other examples of the usefulness of Big Data. Some of them we won’t find out about for decades to come, but even those available us now show that Big Data is keeping us safe.