link rel="canonical" href=""

Intelligence Methodology: The Way Big Brother Is Actually Looking Out For You

All of these actions have made our hearts pound a bit harder and faster at one time or another, as we hold the thought in the backs of our minds: “Who gets this information and what are they really doing with it?”

The public consensus is that we just have to trust the sales rep on the other end of the telephone who now has our address, credit card CVV number, and our mother’s maiden name (for identification purposes, of course), but as an episode of “Law & Order” or “Catfish” will remind us, that trust is easily, and often broken.

Now that hard drives hold more data, cookies track our every online move, computers in cars record not only when to deploy an airbag but also where we went and how fast we drove to get there, it’s hard not to hold tight to the fear that Big Brother is not only watching, but is saving, downloading, and backing up every aspect of our lives.

But in the midst of googols of Googles (more data than we can count, in layman’s terms), there is a method to the (perceived) madness. There is a system of principles and rules to regulate intelligence, and it ensures that intelligence works for us instead of against us.

Intelligence And Our Greatest Fears

A survey was conducted in 2015 of the Top 10 Fears of Americans. Did snakes make the list? No. How about wrongful incarceration? No, again. Illness and death didn’t even crack the top ten. What Americans seem to be most afraid of, of all of the bad things in the world— five of the ten relate to ways their lives can be turned upside-down by someone having the right (or wrong) intelligence in their hands:

•      Cyber-terrorism

•      Corporate tracking of personal information

•      Government tracking of personal information

•      Identity theft

•      Credit card fraud

Top 10 Fears of 2015 | Photo Credit: Chapman University

We are so fearful of losing our autonomy, of having our right to privacy trampled upon, of the disruption to our lives if someone pretends to be us or wants to destroy us, and yet, we so easily to write down passwords where they can be found, save our documents to a cloud we can’t define or explain, share photos of our children on the internet, carry RFID cards in our wallets, tag our locations in real time on social media, and rely on our smartphones to organize and keep “our whole lives” in the palms of our hands.

When was the last time you updated to secure passwords for all of the websites and apps you use? Have you committed to memory a difficult to decipher alarm code, or have you stuck with 1-2-3-4 or the last 4 digits of your birth year? Chances are, you haven’t made these security changes, or you may have invested in an application or program that securely stores your passwords for you. No matter your method, it’s worth nothing that we live in contradictions— we worry about intelligence gathering methods and what will be done with the information gathered about us, but we depend on technologies and methodologies that use machine intelligence (deep learning, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, security codes and patches) to live our lives without the fears stopping us.

Intelligence Gets A Bad Rap

Almost weekly, there are headlines about privacy breeches that send Citizen Average Joe into a frantic frenzy. Take for example this summer’s hottest social digital game, Pokémon GO. Within days of its release, online media flooded our timelines and inboxes with stories not for the faint of heart about coordinated muggings, break-ins, and even discoveries of dead bodies[1], instead of focusing more on tales of friendships forged in parks or how use of the app helped people explore cities and towns in a new, vibrant way.

Or turn on your television and watch the white-knuckling series, “Mr. Robot,” which depicts hactivists for fsociety who use cyber intelligence to try to cancel the world’s consumer debt by bringing down the largest corporation on the planet. (While most of us wouldn’t mind having our credit card debts erased, the implications of this story are incredibly scary, nonetheless).

Photo credit:

The fields of intelligence get a bad rap— cyber intelligence is depicted as hacking by terrorists who will shut down the airlines and power grids. Forensic intelligence is usually tied into criminal intelligence, and shoddy work at crime scenes or with DNA analysis harkening mention of either the O.J. Simpson or the Steven Avery (“Making A Murderer”) cases. The words “signals intelligence” conjure images of RADAR and SONAR involving either a traffic ticket someone feels they were targeted for or profiled to receive, or of finding submarines and espionage like in a Hollywood blockbuster. And of course, human intelligence evokes images of a spy in a trench coat, sharing International secrets in whispers while sitting on a park bench, just before someone’s car blows ups.

The movie, television, and book publishing industries fuel our fears surrounding intelligence, and it’s mainly because they go for the entertainment value by hyping fantasy and imagination with few truths (or by exaggerating really true stories). Not to mention the media with their 24-hour news cycles and online publications giving you stories at your fingertips which sensationalize factual incidents in the intelligence world simply by nature of their repeated cycles and easy access.

As any psychologist or therapist can tell you, it’s not only important to examine what you fear, but what planted the seed of fear in you to begin with.

Protection All Around You

So, do we really have just cause to be so mystified by who we think is watching and tracking us?

As it turns out, intelligence methodology actually provides protection all around you, often in ways that you take for granted.

Let’s look at these examples:


When you check your email, your IP address and location are being tracked. This isn’t to make it easy for someone working in a plush Google office to be able to track your whereabouts, but to give you, the user, more power in maintaining the security of your account. View your last account activity details to verify that no one else is poking around there. Google, as well as other applications, services, and websites, uses 2-step verification, whereby the user registers with a phone number connected to the account and will receive a message in the event of suspicious activity (like a log in from another device).


For every channel airing niche programming on our televisions, satellites also beam unfathomable types and amounts of data back to Earth, and it’s all so mysterious because we don’t much know about any of it. We can imagine how the use of such data is useful to nations and their militaries, but consider this: images from satellites can help predict poverty by viewing areas up close.[2]  Such intelligence will not only help aid workers, but will save money and other resources which can be redirected to helping people who need them the most.

-Closed Circuit Television (CCTV):

Quite popular (plentiful) in the United Kingdom, CCTVs are the epitome of the negative image of Big Brother spying on you. However, a 2009 analysis titled "Public Area CCTV and Crime Prevention: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis[3]," examined 44 studies that surveyed areas from the United Kingdom to large U.S. cities, and reported significant decreases in different crimes. CCTVs gather intelligence and “are effective at deterring and solving crime, and that appropriate regulation and legal restrictions on surveillance of public spaces can provide sufficient protections”[4]

And while already developed, the future of identification lies in technological advancements paired with intelligence: retinal scans to gain access to your safe deposit box, fingerprint pads to unlock doors and even firearms for safety.

However, these ways of protecting people and property were not developed solely as technological advancements; again, they were conceived, developed, implemented, and tested through the employ of intelligence methods; more specifically, scientific ones.

“We must revisit the idea that science is a methodology and not an ontology.”

Intelligence is a science[5], and the Scientific Methods helps intelligence analysts arrive at better conclusions in terms of using that intelligence to keep people safe.

As we may remember from school, the Scientific Method is an ongoing process with these steps:

•   Make observations

•   Think of interesting questions

•   Formulate hypothesis

•   Develop testable predictions

•   Gather data to test predictions

•   Refine, alter, expand or reject hypothesis

•   Develop general theories

“Intelligence analysts need to make sense of seemingly chaotic data, to see patterns in behavior and events, and to ascertain possible relationships by observing connections among things that might otherwise seem disconnected.”[6]The Scientific Method is the gold standard regarding intelligence methodology.

To Serve And Protect: The Law As A Methodology

In our blog post, “What Is Intelligence?” we pointed out that “Information obtained from intelligence should not exist just for data’s sake; it needs to meet a goal.”

In addition to all of the technological advances in place and on the horizon to protect us from our fears of identity theft and cyber terrorism, we have another, more familiar intelligence methodology— the “old school” regulatory system of the law. After the science comes regulation and compliance for meeting the goal of intelligence. A legal basis for the intelligence work must be present from the onset.

In the United States, there are roughly 20 national privacy and data security laws, with hundreds more in individual states to assuage those top fears of Americans. Analysts must comply by rules, seek warrants when needed for access to private information, and safeguards must be in place and utilized to secure data.

A snapshot of privacy laws in the USA relating to intelligence gathering of private information:

Photo credit:

The large range of companies regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (‘FTC’) are subject to enforcement if they engage in materially unfair or deceptive trade practices. The FTC has used this authority to pursue companies that fail to implement reasonable minimal data security measures, fail to live up to promises in privacy policies, or frustrate consumer choices about processing or disclosure of personal data.
US privacy laws and self regulatory principles vary widely, but generally require pre collection notice and an opt out for use and disclosure of regulated personal information.
Opt‑in rules apply in special cases involving information that is considered sensitive under US law, such as for health information, use of credit reports, student data, personal information collected online from children under 13 (see below for the scope of this requirement), video viewing choices, precise geolocation data, and telecommunication usage information. The FTC interprets as a "deceptive trade practice" failing to obtain opt in consent if a company engages in materially different uses or discloses personal information not disclosed in the privacy policy under which personal information was collected. It has, for example, sued to prevent disclosure of personal data as apart of several bankruptcy proceedings.

States impose a wide range of specific requirements, particularly in the employee privacy area. For example, a significant number of states have enacted employee social media privacy laws, and, in 2014 and 2015, a disparate array of education privacy laws.
The US also regulates marketing communications extensively, including telemarketing, text message marketing, fax marketing and email marketing (which is discussed below). The first three types of marketing are frequent targets of class action lawsuits for significant statutory damages.
Violations are generally enforced by the FTC, State Attorneys General, or the regulator for the industry sector in question. Civil penalties are generally significant. In addition, some privacy laws (for example, credit reporting privacy laws, electronic communications privacy laws, video privacy laws, call recording laws, cable communications privacy laws) are enforced through class action lawsuits for significant statutory damages and attorney’s fees.  Defendants can also be sued for actual damages for negligence in securing personal information such as payment card data, and for surprising and inadequately disclosed tracking of consumers.
-Data Protection Laws Around The World

While what we see and hear about cyber, human, criminal, and visual intelligence (to name a few) may frighten us, it’s important to lift the veil and see that it’s not magical, it’s methodological. Take stock of all of the safety and security mechanisms in place in your life and remember how they came to be— via intelligence methodology— and rest easier and assured that Big Brother isn’t looking at you; he’s looking out for you.

Intrigued? Be sure to follow us to learn more in our series on Intelligence.

You can also learn more about the data protection laws of the world at

Yolanda Michelle Hairston

Former television news journalist with more than 20 years of experience in marketing and digital content.

More Content From Click-Ins: