The Washington Post reported today that the U.S. intelligence community adds 1,600 names a day to its terrorist watch list, according to the FBI. Now a number like that is irresistible to a man with a calculator and twelve years of public programming that says math is important.
So how long would it take to get everyone in the U.S. on that list? Well, the U.S. population is presently estimated at 307,845,181 (damn, just went up by 42… 13 of them are Screamin’ Jay Hawkins‘… somehow) and let’s do it in years just to round it off nicely… 307,845,181 at 1600 a day, divided by 365 and you’ve got about 193 years until we’ve got every American on the terrorist watch list.
Of course, this is some godawful math that means very, very little. There’s already a million entries on the list, 400,000 of them estimated to be unique individuals. 600 names a day are removed and “fewer than 5 percent of the people on the list are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.” Not to mention that in 193 years, there will be a lot more Americans, many of them with no idea how to get on a terrorist watch list.
So what does this all tell us? Well, that the FBI has a large, churning data pool of aliases and maybes, hopefully inhabited by some sort of machine intelligence that can make tastier hash out of it than I can. This sampling also gives a glimpse into just how much of a heap they’d have of all the data generated by the sort of dystopian all-seeing eye that we all sort of assume is growing in the shadows somewhere, whether ECHELON or Carnivore or whatever the devil calls himself.
Is there privacy in the anonymity of that heap? What kind of organisms would grow out of that sort of mulch? How would they see the world?