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Did America's SKYNET kill thousands in Pakistan?

February 19, 2016 17:12 IST

A program by the National Security Agency, which uses metadata and learning algorithms to select targets for drone strikes, may be targetting thousands of innocent people, a report has said.

Unfortunately named the SKYNET (the evil artificial intelligence, that features in the Terminator movies), is a surveillance programs that uses cellphone metadata to track call activities and GPS location of suspected terrorists to either create profiles on them or to eliminate them.

Now new data (revealed by former NSA staffer Edward Snowden) suggests that many of these people killed based on the metadata may have been innocent.

According to the bureau of journalism, somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 people have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, and most of them were classified by the US government as ‘extremists’.

According to thehackernews, 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.

For the last decade or so, the United States has used unmanned drones to attack militants in Pakistan. The number of kills is unknown, but estimates start at over a thousand and range up to maybe four thousand. A key problem for the intelligence services is finding the ‘right’ people to kill, since the militants are mixed in with the general population and not just sitting in camp together waiting to be bombed, according to Theguardian.

However, the spy agency has made 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, says thehackernews.

In the years that have followed, thousands of innocent people in Pakistan may have been mislabelled as terrorists by that "scientifically unsound" algorithm, possibly resulting in their untimely demise, according to arstechnica.co.uk.

Image: A MQ-9 Reaper drone taxis at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Photograph: Efren Lopez/US Air Force/Reuters

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