By Vijay Sankaran

Having lived most of my life in the New York metropolitan area, I have been shocked by the tragedies that have struck the city. For me, the twin towers of the World Trade Center represented the backbone the New York skyline. To even imagine that those buildings do not exist is beyond my wildest imagination, as they have been mainstays in my memories throughout my life. For New Yorkers, a part of us has passed on, and we will have to rely on our fond memories. I hope that someday, the skyline as we once knew it will return to its former glory.

In the days following the tragedies, I was hooked on CNN. I followed the latest developments closely and watched as the authorities pieced together the puzzle. I find some of this information shocking, as certain people have had permission to do certain things, even when the FBI was watching them.

Is this a case of the United States letting its guard down? Perhaps. But more likely, it is a case of poor information management. War is vindictive and will perhaps satiate our appetite for revenge, but I believe that a national data warehouse is what will help prevent future breaches in our security. In this article, I will outline the benefits of a national database for tracking criminals.

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A worldwide tracking system
A national data warehouse would combine all of the law enforcement agencies’ criminal activity and suspect data. It could include imported data from Interpol, Scotland Yard, and the KGB. The data would include credit card feeds, purchases, movements, and suspicious activities by individuals in the database. Based on the level of suspicion that individuals generate, a rules engine could score them on their level of threat to society.

This national data warehouse could be made available to airlines, immigration officials, other sensitive facilities, and employment agencies. If someone who is rated as a high threat attempts to check in with an airline, for example, the airline could then deny this person access to the flight or screen the individual more thoroughly. Many companies already use similar algorithms for credit screening. Why not use it for more high-risk activities as well?

Benefits outweigh costs
Many will argue that gathering this type of data is a form of profiling. You bet it is. But it is better than the alternative—stopping everyone who “looks like a terrorist” because they are dressed in a particular way or have certain racial features. What I propose is targeted profiling based on information and data—not personal prejudice. Compared to war and most other homeland defense initiatives, the cost of implementing such a database would be minuscule, but its benefits would be extremely valuable: It would provide a screening net that could be accessed by almost any organization across the country.

The recent reports on activities and background information about the suspected terrorists have convinced me that the data is there. It is just not structured correctly or accessible to the right people. A national data warehouse will solve this. This data warehouse will allow us to take preventive measures so that we can ensure that the wrong people don’t infiltrate our country.

Vijay Sankaran is the subject matter expert for gantthead’s Business Intelligence department.

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Original publication on gantthead: Sept. 26, 2001.