Could Big Data Play a Key Role in Fighting Terrorism?

August 1, 2017
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With the earth-shattering news that yet another pair of terrorist attacks hit both the United States and France in the past few days, it’s little wonder that people are looking for answers. How do we balance privacy concerns with national security? How are the greatest intelligence apparatuses in the world missing the large-scale patterns and the micro-transactions that signal a future event? 

Creating a National Database of Gun Owners is Critical 

Yes, the Second Amendment is as quintessentially American as baseball and apple pie, but tracking gun ownership in a database is not the same as disarming the populace at large. The entire point behind the more than 23 million background checks performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigations in 2016 was to better identify potential threats, before the completion of a firearm purchase. 

While the FBI does perform background checks on gun purchases conducted by individuals and companies that hold a Federal Firearm License, as mandated by the Brady Violence Prevention Act (a.k.a. The Brady Law), there is currently no unified, national database of gun owners. 

Without a Database, Establishing and Identifying Patterns from Data is Nearly Impossible 

Federal and State agencies who take on the challenge of keeping us safe from terrorist attacks have to piece together data from a variety of sources. In corporate America, a data analyst would demand that a singular database be created in order to make data-mining a more efficient and reliable process. 

Unfortunately, the Federal Government isn’t know for its efficiency. And, if it had the political will to create a registry, it would incur the wrath of the gun lobby in the United States. Protecting the rights of citizens is important, but demanding that only minimal tracking of firearms on a national level take place, we’re handicapping law enforcement and making the transfer of weapons to our enemies far easier. 

How Would a National Database of Gun Owners Work? 

To understand how a database could be successfully implemented, while still respecting the privacy of innocent individuals, the legislators need to look no further than the current System ID infrastructure that is utilized in the private sector. At the point of manufacture, firearm producers can barcode their devices and register them in the database.  

While firearms currently have serial numbers etched into them, this information is only rarely entered into comprehensive databases that track the weapon from manufacturer to vendor and finally to consumer. Having a unified System ID infrastructure would allow for law enforcement to keep track of registered events involving a specific firearm (i.e. manufacture, purchase and sale). 

Online, Accessible and Efficient 

By providing gun owners the ability to register their firearms online and then self-report sales (including identifying information of the new owners), a national database could be maintained. Will it be perfect? No, there will always be a degree of data-loss as unreported transactions take place. But, having a good-faith effort to track weapons and the purchase of weapons would provide law enforcement and their data analysts the ability to better understand the threat-vector; hopefully preventing a large number of future terrorist events.