The technology behind the list that prevents so many innocent people from flying is a nightmare according to a Congressional investigation:
In a letter to the inspector general at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence last week, Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) complained that the National Counterterrorism Center’s “Railhead” initiative, designed to upgrade the government’s master database of suspected terrorists, “if actually deployed will leave our country more vulnerable than the existing yet flawed system in operation today.”
Miller, who chairs the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee, cited “severe technical troubles, poor contractor management, and weak government oversight,” which he said had brought the Railhead program to the “verge of collapse.”
This seems par for the course when you consider the other technological failings of this administration. The problem is that these flaws are affecting the lives of thousands of U.S. citizens.
One of the big problems stems from a usability stand point. There isn’t a simple interface to search for people. Instead you have to basically be a programmer:
The current TIDE system has its own set of “serious, long-standing technical problems.” It requires users to perform “cumbersome and complex” SQL searches rather than delivering straightforward text matches. And its data is scattered across 463 different, poorly-indexed tables.
Allow me to translate for you. Right now you can search for a post on this site by simply entering some text at the top of the page and clicking search. You get a nice structured page showing you the post.
So what if I decided to get rid of that search and go to one like the government is using? If you wanted to search for “bush” you would have to enter something like this:
select t.body,n.title from node_revisions as t left join node as n where t.body like ‘% bush %’
Of course I use Drupal, which is pretty advanced, so let’s go with something more simple like WordPress:
select * from wp_posts where content like ‘% bush %’
I have no idea how they actually laid out their database, but you get the basic idea. Usability wasn’t a factor in the development of their system.
With such a cumbersome interface it’s no shock that so many people end up on the no fly list. So how much money has this government wasted on something that any web app developer could build in a matter of days? I would say a lot.