NSA’s SKYNET algorithm may be responsible for killing of innocents

The NSA’s SKYNET program may be killing thousands of innocent people

This is NSA script that may have horribly gone wrong.

Thousands of innocents may have been killed by Hellfire and other missiles fired by Predator drones because the algorithm for tracking these people might have been horribly wrong. Unlike the SKYNET in the Terminator series which turns against humans when it gains intelligence, NSA’s SKYNET may have actually cost hundreds of innocent lives due to a faulty programming.

SKYNET is a surveillance program run by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and used by it cell phone metadata to track the GPS location and call activities of suspected terrorists. The data is then fed into the computers manning Predator UAV’s (drones) which fire Hellfire missiles on such identified targets.

In 2014, the former director of both the CIA and NSA proclaimed that “we kill people based on metadata.” Now, a new examination of previously published Snowden documents suggests that many of those people may have been innocent.

Last year, the leaked documents detailing the NSA’s SKYNET programme published by The Intercept showed that NSA had used a machine learning algorithm on the cellular network metadata of 55 Million people in Pakistan to rate each citizen’s likelihood of being a terrorist.

According to the new examination, NSA made some elementary errors in their machine-learning algorithm, which lead to the generation of thousands of false leads, potentially exposing innocent people to remote assassination by drone. One of the leaked slides claimed that SKYNET has a false-positive rate of 0.008%, in some cases, and the NSA was using about 55 million people’s phone records for SKYNET.

Basically, SKYNET works like a typical modern Big Data business application. The program collects metadata and stores it on NSA cloud servers, extracts relevant information, and then applies machine learning to identify leads for a targeted campaign.

But, Ars Technica points out that, even at this minute rate, many innocent people are possibly mislabeled. Some of the NSA’s tests even saw higher error rates of 0.18%, which means mislabeling nearly 99,000 people out of the 55 Million.

United States uses such Predator drones to target terrorists and enemy combatants who are located in inaccessible regions. The number of Predator sorties carried out by NSA is not known, also NSA has never released figures of persons killed during such sorties by Hellfire missiles. US regularly undertakes such sorties in the hilly areas of Pakistan to kill the Taliban militias as well as in Iraq to kill the IS militants.

Since 2004, the United States government has carried out hundreds of drone strikes against alleged terrorists in Pakistan and killed somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 people, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported.

Based on the new examination, the number of innocents killed using the SKYNET may be quite high. It’s a small step from applying SKYNET logic to look for “terrorists” in Pakistan to applying the same logic domestically to look for “drug dealers” or “protesters” or just people who disagree with the state. Killing people “based on metadata,” as Hayden said, is easy to ignore when it happens far away in a foreign land. But what happens when SKYNET gets turned on us—assuming it hasn’t been already?

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