Limitations of IT

Thomas R. Temin

Online voting and prewar intelligence might be widely divergent topics. But both have troubled recent histories and illustrate the limits of technology.

Earlier this month, the Defense Department withdrew plans to let soldiers deployed overseas vote online for the coming presidential election. Just as stateside jurisdictions have found, security questions made the online voting effort too risky.

In Fairfax County, Va.'the population of which exceeds 1 million people'officials are struggling both technically and legislatively to fix a $3.5 million e-voting system plagued by malfunctioning machines and slow return tallies.

There's more to this than finding ways to mitigate the risks of online voting. If people have funny feelings about an election process, it's just as bad as suspicions of ballot box stuffing.

As a person who avidly conducts much of my professional and private work electronically, I'm not sure electronic or Internet voting is something citizens generally want or need'or see much benefit to having.

The CIA is on the hot seat over prewar intelligence about Iraqi nuclear and biological weapons, or lack thereof. No one knows for sure.

The imbroglio raises the issue of intelligence gathering, and whether the agency, or any agency, has the tools necessary to amplify the analytical work of humans.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the intelligence agencies have been more publicly visible and active in the IT arena, talking about tools they need to automate the warehousing, sorting and trend-spotting of the great masses of data they gather at high velocity. The CIA, through its venture capital organization In-Q-Tel, is pumping millions into initiatives to develop such tools.

If the conclusions reached about weapons in Iraq turn out to be both wrong and reached using the best available IT, then clearly the CIA still suffers from a technology gap, or the best tools available aren't very good.

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