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That’s the challenge of big data - taking a massive amount of data and applying analytics to extract useful, actionable information. Keep in mind, I’m not a data scientist, but analysts sometimes refer to the “Three Vs of Big Data”: data volume, data velocity and data type variety. Obviously volume is one of these and is consider a critical component of data analytics. Of course, the greater the variety and volume, the more challenging it can be to work with it.
With respect to the NSA, I’m not buying it. They have a history of not being honest, even when the director is testifying to congress. They also have a history of denying that things are possible, only to have it come out later that not only was it possible, they were actually doing it. Things like intercepting Google’s network traffic comes to mind, for an example. I firmly suspect they are destroying the data that is requested because they don’t want to provide it, not because they lack the technological know-how to do so. Keep in mind that just a week or two ago, in response to an ACLU request to a Florida police department about cell phone spying, just before the records were to be produced, the US Marshal Service deputized one of the local police officers as a “special deputy marshal” then used that as a basis to claim that all records were property of the federal government and removed the records from the jurisdiction.