False Positives and the Disposition Matrix

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The bane of databases is the false positive – the inclusion of an entry that shouldn’t be there. For anti-malware databases, false positives are inconvenient: good software is blocked because it is believed to be bad. For human databases it can be equally inconvenient: a false positive in the no-fly database means you will be held for investigation, not allowed to fly, possibly strip-searched, and will almost certainly miss your business appointment.

But one false-positive you really want to avoid is the disposition matrix described by the Washington Post. “Over the past two years”, it reported, “the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the ‘disposition matrix’.” It is nothing short of a locational, drone-targeted kill-list database for terrorists: it combines names with locations and times.

“We can’t possibly kill everyone who wants to harm us”, an unnamed senior administration official told the Post. “It’s a necessary part of what we do... We’re not going to wind up in 10 years in a world of everybody holding hands and saying, ‘We love America’.” But perhaps the disposition matrix is bound to help.

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