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Cell Phones: Tracking Devices That Make Phone Calls
December 4, 2013 1:33 PM   Subscribe

The NSA is gathering nearly 5 billion cell phone location records a day, allowing the agency to track the movement of individuals and map their relationships in ways that would have been previously unimaginable. The bulk collection feeds CO-TRAVELER, an analytic tool that lets analysts identify relationships by tracking people whose movements intersect, and look back in time to see where people have been. TL:DR? The WaPo has a quick video explaining CO-TRAVELER here.

From the article:
"The NSA cannot know in advance which tiny fraction of 1 percent of the records it may need, so it collects and keeps as many as it can — 27 terabytes, by one account, or more than double the text content of the Library of Congress’s print collection. The location programs have brought in such volumes of information, according to a May 2012 internal NSA briefing, that they are “outpacing our ability to ingest, process and store” data. In the ensuing year and a half, the NSA has been transitioning to a processing system that provided it with greater capacity."
posted by anemone of the state (134 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
27 terabytes of location data (guessing GPS cords) is such an astonishing amount. Just jaw-dropping.
posted by lattiboy at 1:38 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


At first I was shocked that there are even 5Bn cellphones in the world, considering the global population is just over 7Bn, and then I realized I had my personal cell in my left pocket and my work blackberry in my right.

Good thing I have my GPS tracking toggled off! /kidding

Lastly, wouldn't it be easier to just say they are tracking every cellphone? Surely that must be close to accurate.

Edit: I looked more closely and I see that the number of devices is lower, but that there are multiple records per device. Stupid stupid.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 1:39 PM on December 4, 2013


More fun:

Like encryption and anonymity tools online, which are used by dissidents, journalists and terrorists alike, security-minded behavior — using disposable cellphones and switching them on only long enough to make brief calls — marks a user for special scrutiny. CO-TRAVELER takes note, for example, when a new telephone connects to a cell tower soon after another nearby device is used for the last time.

A central feature of each of these tools is that they do not rely on knowing a particular target in advance, or even suspecting one.

posted by anemone of the state at 1:41 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”

Holy parsing, Batman!

When a lawyer uses complex phrases like this, it's a good assumption that the actual meaning is the exact opposite of what it seems to convey, or it has no actual meaning.
posted by el io at 1:41 PM on December 4, 2013 [35 favorites]


It means the intelligence community is off the reservation, acting without any authority.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:43 PM on December 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


Surely this will
posted by Oxydude at 1:45 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The saddest thing about this whole NSA clusterfuck is how not angry about it most people are.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:45 PM on December 4, 2013 [38 favorites]


The saddest thing about this whole NSA clusterfuck to me is how not angry about it most people are.

I completely agree with you, but there's only so much impotent rage I can sustain on any given day.
posted by BrianJ at 1:47 PM on December 4, 2013 [41 favorites]


The saddest thing about this whole NSA clusterfuck is how not angry about it most people are.

I thought Wikileaks would have been better handled like this -- a steady trickle of the most critical information, because as it was, (what I recall as) the biggest impact from Wikileaks was the sheer volume of information.

Now I realize that there is the same potential for information fatigue with the steady trickle of information. You can only say "holy shit, what the fuck are they doing?" so many times with the same amount of authentic awe and shock.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:47 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cellphone records != cellphones. If you're cruising down a highway talking on the phone you might generate a dozen records as you switch from tower to tower. Each time you use your phone you'll also create a new record.
posted by furtive at 1:48 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Presumably they're doing this to cell phones that weren't in public, which isn't legal without a warrant.

Presumably they're tracking my cell phone, which isn't legal if I'm not in public and they don't have a warrant, even though I don't live in the U.S.

And presumably nobody's going to be arresting them for the billions of violations of wiretap laws in which they are so clearly engaging.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:51 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”

Holy parsing, Batman!

When a lawyer uses complex phrases like this, it's a good assumption that the actual meaning is the exact opposite of what it seems to convey, or it has no actual meaning.


Let's unpack that sentence: "no [group?] in the intelligence community was being told to collect bulk location cellphone data in the US." This could mean: 1) they could have been collecting data as an unexpected bonus feature to another data collection effort or 2) they were collecting this data without being (directly) told to do so. I could see the official direction be to "track potential persons of interest, based on these values" and you can only do that by collecting all the data and parsing it accordingly. This makes sense with this sentence:

A central feature of each of these tools is that they do not rely on knowing a particular target in advance, or even suspecting one.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:52 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The saddest thing about this whole NSA clusterfuck is how not angry about it most people are.

I fear that will change only after they start using that info against all of us who "aren't doing anything", thus although it's technically a Bad Thing it currently "doesn't affect us personally".
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2013


You can parse that statement to read "the intelligence community is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information without authority".
posted by panaceanot at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well given that are options are always vote this guy or vote for that guy who both agree with this what the hell can upset people really do about this?
posted by srboisvert at 2:01 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder how far we are away from a world where this information becomes the fodder for subpoenas issued to prove someone's location in criminal cases, divorce proceedings and the like?
posted by BrianJ at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


what the hell can upset people really do about this?

Stop using all electronics, pretty much.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well given that are options are always vote this guy or vote for that guy who both agree with this what the hell can upset people really do about this?

Put their bodies in the way and not leave until the abuses stop.
posted by anemone of the state at 2:03 PM on December 4, 2013


“there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”

Holy parsing, Batman!


Let's explore the possibilities!

there is no element of the intelligence community (we farm it out to private industry)

that under any authority (we are doing it without permission)

is intentionally collecting (oops, how did that get in here?)

bulk cellphone (if it's less than 50%, it's not bulk, right?)

location information about cellphones (just signal strength of what towers your phone was talking to, not GPS data)

in the United States. (this one is interesting: does "in the United States" reference "about cellphones" or does it reference "no element of the intelligence community", that is to say 'we have a group that does it, but they are located in the U.K.'?)
posted by fings at 2:04 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Presumably they're doing this to cell phones that weren't in public, which isn't legal without a warrant.
Presumably they're tracking my cell phone, which isn't legal if I'm not in public [...]
And presumably nobody's going to be arresting them for the billions of violations of wiretap laws [...]


Ah, but it all depends on what you mean by "this".

Arguably, if a computer records your entire cellphone conversation but no analyst ever listens to it, it isn't wiretapping. (If a tree falls in the forest...)

Arguably, if a computer records only your cellphone conversation metadata, it isn't wiretapping at all. (Who you call and where you call from is public, even if what you say isn't.)

Remember, the argument only has to convince one Federal judge to rubber-stamp it - it doesn't have to be "reasonable" because terrorism.

And thus the march of technology makes a mockery of privacy protections. Original intent my ass.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:04 PM on December 4, 2013


NSA probably isn't getting GPS data, but rather Call Data Records (CDRs), which are stored every time you make a call or send an SMS. So the scenario above of continuously getting cell tower data as you drive is possible but probably isn't what's going on here, since that data usually isn't stored long-term.

The two big problems with this kind of data are that (a) cell sizes can be pretty big (up to 1km in the worst case, but typically a few city blocks), and (b) you are always "accidentally" co-located with a lot of other people.

Incidentally, a lot of my research has been looking at how much we can infer about people based on smartphone data (this work is *not* funded by NSA). We're trying to use data like this to infer a better social graph, one that can incorporate notions of relationship type (family, friend, co-worker) and tie strength (you seem close to this person, or not close).

So far, we've used GPS level data from smartphones to create models that can predict if you're friends on Facebook with pretty good accuracy (PDF). Using call logs and SMS logs, we've been able to create models that can classify {family, friend, co-worker} with pretty good accuracy too (PDF).

(In case you're wondering, one of the longer-term goals we're looking at is, can we infer depression in people by inferring sleep patterns and social relationships?)

We've also collected a bunch of foursquare check-in data to capture people's perceptions of their neighborhoods (PDF). This is the Livehoods project that was previously reported here on MeFi. The goal here is to use mass quantities of this kind of data to help us understand the nature and character of cities.
posted by jasonhong at 2:05 PM on December 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


Well given that are options are always vote this guy or vote for that guy who both agree with this what the hell can upset people really do about this?

Somewhere in the approximate neighborhood of "fuck all", though I suppose there are plenty of opportunities to mark yourself as a person of special interest by attempting to protect your privacy or lodge meaningful protest against the normalization of total surveillance.

Somebody talk me out of my complete despair, because I can no longer seem to do it on my own.
posted by brennen at 2:05 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Put their bodies in the way and not leave until the abuses stop.

In the way of what, exactly? In the way of every cellphone on the planet? In the way of the analysts driving to work every morning? Who on earth cares about a few hundred American bodies anyway? (Provided those bodies have already been born. Pre-born, well, some folks might give half a shit.)

Clearly we must commence Operation Fetuses At the White House Gates.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:07 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The saddest thing about this whole NSA clusterfuck is how not angry about it most people are.

The thing is, I am so utterly dismayed about what's happened here after 911. This was what I suspected to go on shortly after it all started, and here we are. I've been this cynical all along, I was just really hoping to not be right.

Now all we have to do is wait for them to come for whatever group you happen to be in when the next fundo crazypants gets into power and decides that masturbators are worthy of incarceration in the Fruit of the Loom camp or the Chevron camp.
posted by nevercalm at 2:08 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Surely they would escape from the Fruit of the Loom camp.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:10 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The co-traveler stuff is the most interesting part of this. It means you have nothing to fear, as long as you are not on the same bus route as a terrorist.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:11 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is it MORE cynical or LESS cynical that part of my apathy comes from, "well, in a few decades the vast majority of Americans will be too impoverished to partake of the grid anymore anyway."

Privacy Through Poverty!
posted by like_a_friend at 2:11 PM on December 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


Incidentally, a lot of my research has been looking at how much we can infer about people based on smartphone data (this work is *not* funded by NSA). We're trying to use data like this to infer a better social graph, one that can incorporate notions of relationship type (family, friend, co-worker) and tie strength (you seem close to this person, or not close).

I'm sure your work is done with the best of intentions (the bit about inferring depression sounds particularly interesting/socially beneficial).

But do you ever think about the broader implications of what you're doing? I mean, how long until someone incorporates your findings into a method for spamming everyone with ads all the goddamn time, or monitoring for subversive behavior, or whatever?

I don't know. If I were an academic I'd have serious qualms about going down any route related to big social or location data.
posted by downing street memo at 2:13 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


In my brief time working with federal government folks, I always assumed that the government simply wouldn't have resources or be organized or smart enough to be able to track this. In the 8-10 years since then, Facebook has proliferated, and I got two cell phones (up from zero).

I was wrong. It doesn't take organization. It doesn't take smarts. It just takes data.
posted by mochapickle at 2:16 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Arguably, if a computer records your entire cellphone conversation but no analyst ever listens to it, it isn't wiretapping. (If a tree falls in the forest...)

Yes, but if it was gathered without suspicion or warrant, and then used later for any purpose, it's still the product of a warrantless search.

Arguably, if a computer records only your cellphone conversation metadata, it isn't wiretapping at all. (Who you call and where you call from is public, even if what you say isn't.)

Arguably, but it's a really weak argument. The idea that using a telephone, and therefore, the services of the telephone company, means you've ceded your Fourth Amendment rights, is a huge stretch. However, since cell phones, and the people carrying them, are not always in public, this is an obvious violation of the Fourth Amendment when used against U.S. persons; tracking someone's movements irrespective of their presence in public is unquestionably a search and requires a warrant.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:16 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The co-traveler stuff is the most interesting part of this. It means you have nothing to fear, as long as you are not on the same bus route as a terrorist.

It isn't personal, it's just business.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:16 PM on December 4, 2013


The saddest thing about this whole NSA clusterfuck is how not angry about it most people are.

Sorry. I'm already angry about climate change denial, income inequality, discrimination against LGBTQ people, anti-vax, sexism in gamer culture, the imprisonment of Pussy Riot members, and the cancellation of Firefly.
posted by Foosnark at 2:17 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I wonder how far we are away from a world where this information becomes the fodder for subpoenas issued to prove someone's location in criminal cases, divorce proceedings and the like?

Not far.
posted by scose at 2:18 PM on December 4, 2013


So we have now learned that the metadata being requested under FISA for the domestic phone calls does NOT include a request for location data and that the government is not deliberately requesting that data for domestic calls. Any US location data collected is collected accidentally. This was a big argument here months back and now it has been settled.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:20 PM on December 4, 2013


Well, that's it. Shut down the thread.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:22 PM on December 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


27 terabytes of location data (guessing GPS cords) is such an astonishing amount. Just jaw-dropping.

Well...these days, that's just about the size of a breadbox, right?
posted by sexyrobot at 2:22 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


As long as there is one foreign man who harbors a vague distrust of the USA, I am gladly willing to allow rectal drone surveillance of everyone on the planet.
           .-"""""""-.
         .'       __  \_
        /        /  \/  \
       |         \_0/\_0/______
       |:.          .'       oo`\
       |:.         /             \
       |' ;        |             |
       |:..   .     \_______     |
       |::.|'     ,  \,_____\   /
       |:::.; ' | .  '|  ====)_/===;===========;()
       |::; | | ; ; | |            # # # #::::::
      /::::.|-| |_|-|, \           # # # #::::::
     /'-=-'`  '-'   '--'\          # # # #::::::
    /                    \         # # # #::::::
       EAGLE EYED NSA              # # # # # # #
     DON'T LET TERRORISTS          # # # # # # #
     TAKE OUR FREEDOM AWAY         # # # # # # #
                                   # # # # # # #
                                   # # # # # # #

posted by benzenedream at 2:23 PM on December 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


You could probably fit nine 3TB drives in a breadbox, so, yeah.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:23 PM on December 4, 2013


Ironmouth, it is simply astonishing that you continue to believe and support anything these people say.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:24 PM on December 4, 2013 [21 favorites]


I wonder how far we are away from a world where this information becomes the fodder for subpoenas issued to prove someone's location in criminal cases, divorce proceedings and the like?

The feds may already be using it in criminal cases - no subpoena needed:

Reuters on Monday detailed how the Special Operative Division – a unit within the DEA comprising representatives of two dozen agencies including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security – passes tips from wiretaps, informants and a database of telephone records to field agents to investigate and arrest criminals. Reuters reports that, although such cases rarely involve national security issues, the DEA agents using the tips are trained to "recreate" the source of the criminal investigation to conceal its true origin from defence lawyers, prosecutors and judges.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:31 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Enterprise data storage is more complex that 9 drives in a breadbox. Especially since this is the Government doing the buying, not a scrappy startup.

The compute resources required to operate on this scale are quite large. I'm starting to think that the NSA has way more than the one DC in Utah.

Also, if the cat is out of the bag, how long until they start allowing lower level access to the tracking data? Obvious consumers like the FBI, DHS, cops, blah blah blah. But what about less obvious consumers like the IRS, high school principals looking for kids playing hooky, and Jim from accounting who happens to work in some government office with an unsecured terminal.

What happens in 10 years. Worrisome.

What the fuck, America. What the fuck.
posted by tracert at 2:36 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth, it is simply astonishing that you continue to believe and support anything these people say.

You do realize that the point I'm citing comes from Snowden, don't you? I have not disbelieved Snowden. Just disagreed with his interpretation.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:36 PM on December 4, 2013


Speaking of collecting and misusing data:

A Canadian woman said she was denied entry into the U.S. by a Customs and Border Protection Agent who cited her hospitalization last year for clinical depression.

...Richardson, who said she hadn’t discussed her private medical history or background with agents at the airport, said she was told that a call to her psychiatrist wasn’t sufficient.

...Richardson said the agent gave her a signed document that showed “system checks” had found the “mental illness episode” that required medical clearance before entering the U.S.

...More than a dozen Canadians reported in 2011 and 2010 that they were denied entry to the U.S. after their mental health records were shared with DHS.

posted by emjaybee at 2:40 PM on December 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


CO-TRAVELER. We're all suspected of being FELLOW-TRAVELERS now, I guess.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:42 PM on December 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


CO-TRAVELER. We're all suspected of being FELLOW-TRAVELERS now, I guess.

That seems to be exactly right.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:47 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


>> Arguably, if a computer records your entire cellphone conversation but no analyst ever listens to it, it isn't wiretapping. (If a tree falls in the forest...)

> Yes, but if it was gathered without suspicion or warrant, and then used later for any purpose, it's still the product of a warrantless search.


What if they claim that before they use it for any purpose, they will get an individual warrant to do so? The data just sits there, untouched by human hands, until someone has a reasonable suspicion and can get a judge to say yes. Surely that's not (arguably) a warrantless search?

>> Arguably, if a computer records only your cellphone conversation metadata, it isn't wiretapping at all. (Who you call and where you call from is public, even if what you say isn't.)

> Arguably, but it's a really weak argument.


Yep. I don't agree with the argument either. But all they need is one overworked Federal judge to say yes. Meanwhile, boo, terror alert! If you don't agree, people will die. How often will a judge say no?

The most astonishing part about all this is that given the sheer breadth of their power, they even bothered to bend or stretch the law. The scandal is what is already legal.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:49 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Terrorists hate America because they hate our freedoms. We tried to destroy the terrorists but it was too hard. So instead we destroyed our freedoms."
posted by surrendering monkey at 2:50 PM on December 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


"Terrorists hate America because they hate our freedoms. We tried to destroy the terrorists but it was too hard. So instead we destroyed our freedoms."

Posted by surrendering monkey

Wow, eponysterical to the max!
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:51 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


They asked for the metadata but didn't specify the location data. The FISA Court order was extremely broad: "Telephony metadata includes comprehensive communications routing information, including but not limited to..." The industry standard metadata does include location data, so it's no surprise they have that data as well, and are exploiting it as much as everything else.

Do we have any doubt that if they asked for the location data explicitly, the FISA Court would oblige them?
posted by demiurge at 2:51 PM on December 4, 2013


Or that if the FISA court didn't oblige them, they would take it anyway?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:52 PM on December 4, 2013


NSA Director Keith Alexander disclosed in Senate testimony in October that the NSA had run a pilot project in 2010 and 2011 to collect “samples” of U.S. cellphone location data. The data collected were never available for intelligence analysis purposes, and the project was discontinued because it had no “operational value,” he said.

Don't worry everyone, cellphone location data has no operational value - Keith Alexander himself said so! He took so much heat that one time he lied to Congress that he'd surely never try it again!

The number of Americans whose locations are tracked as part of the NSA’s collection of data overseas is impossible to determine from the Snowden documents alone, and senior intelligence officials declined to offer an estimate.

“It’s awkward for us to try to provide any specific numbers,” one intelligence official said in a telephone interview. An NSA spokeswoman who took part in the call cut in to say the agency has no way to calculate such a figure.


So the NSA has this seemingly sophisticated way of using this cellphone location data to identify and track "co-travelers" yet can't calculate how many people it's tracking because it's awkward? It's not only clearly possible, but no one had ever asked for that before, so it can't be done! (Also, any data visualization people out there wish they could point Tableau at the NSA's databases for a few minutes and get a better grasp on this whole thing?)
posted by antonymous at 2:53 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]








lesson on GPS location data collection: if you want to do the crimes leave your phone at home.
posted by djseafood at 3:27 PM on December 4, 2013


What if they claim that before they use it for any purpose, they will get an individual warrant to do so?

The search occurred prior to the warrant. The government doesn't get to use a time machine for its fishing expeditions.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:32 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Yes, but if it was gathered without suspicion or warrant, and then used later for any purpose, it's still the product of a warrantless search.

What if they claim that before they use it for any purpose, they will get an individual warrant to do so? The data just sits there, untouched by human hands, until someone has a reasonable suspicion and can get a judge to say yes. Surely that's not (arguably) a warrantless search?


there is no requirement for a warrant to obtain this data. There has never been a federal warrant requirement for information shared with a third party. The conclusive case was from 1979.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:33 PM on December 4, 2013


NSA Sent Home Talking Points for Employees to Use in Conversations with Family & Friends During Holidays

Shouldn't those talking points consist of "I don't really know anything about the NSA. Now, would you please pass the sweet potatoes?"
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:34 PM on December 4, 2013


on review, if it is a cellphone conversation, a warrant is required if it is a domestic call.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:34 PM on December 4, 2013


The conclusive case was from 1979.

The only conclusive thing about that case is that the differences in scope and scale between 1979 and today make it only vaguely applicable to the behavior Snowden is disclosing.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:36 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There has never been a federal warrant requirement for information shared with a third party.

An excellent argument for nationalizing the telecom industry.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:38 PM on December 4, 2013


Ironmouth: there is no requirement for a warrant to obtain this data. There has never been a federal warrant requirement for information shared with a third party. The conclusive case was from 1979.

First, the scandal isn't just about what's illegal: It's also about what's legal under current law. Secondly, the scope and scale of the data collection is profoundly different than it was in 1979.
posted by anemone of the state at 3:49 PM on December 4, 2013


My position on all the NSA outrage lately has been difficult to express without coming off a trolling (no) or being right wring and slash or libertarian (bleeding heart liberal from birth) to some. So I will try again: People asked for this. People gave permission for this. Be it the blind permission people grant companies every day with Terms Of Service Agreements or the implied permission of knowing they have a phone that can pinpoint their location on the planet to the square foot. If this was an app, or a dating service, people would be clamoring for it. But because it is the government, they cry outrage.

"It's like the gathered up the [country], sold it to the devil and now it's gone to hell and they wonder how."
posted by mediocre at 3:59 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The data just sits there, untouched by human hands, until someone has a reasonable suspicion and can get a judge to say yes.

"Human hands" is the key phrase. They're using automated agents to paw through the data, en masse. The results of this are used to generate reasonable suspicion, at which case it's forwarded to "human hands". Neat case of reasonable suspicion bootstrapping itself. No doubt the warrant-signing will be automated soon, if it hasn't already.

Surely this capability will expand to law enforcement, if it hasn't already. And the argument is pretty compelling: If we can stop child molesters through the intelligent use of publicly-available data, aren't we obligated to do that?

The good news is that law enforcement will be much better -- if "complete" is "better". So more criminals will be caught and locked up. The bad news is that we're all criminals. The average American breaks one law per day. And many laws are fundamentally unjust. You can go to jail for minor speeding. For yelling in public. For smoking a forbidden plant. And let's not even get into the institutionalized racism.

This all sorta works now, or at least we put up with it, because law enforcement is sporadic at best. But what happens when everybody can be arrested and locked-up at any time, because SOMEWHERE in their historical metadata there exists a pattern that suggests they may have broken a law.

When everybody can be apprehended, who decides who WILL be apprehended?
posted by NiceKitty at 4:03 PM on December 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


I am an apologist for PRISM. People snark about it being an evil, James Bond villain-esque name but I never thought that for a second. I thought of it as a prism, a thing that takes the unimagineably massive bandwidth of a white light and breaks it into spectral colors. It's a wonderful metaphor for intelligence based data mining. Much less evil sounding then Bush's Ministry Of Total Information Awareness complete with a not-even-trying-to-not-be-evil logo.
posted by mediocre at 4:19 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure your work is done with the best of intentions (the bit about inferring depression sounds particularly interesting/socially beneficial).

But do you ever think about the broader implications of what you're doing? I mean, how long until someone incorporates your findings into a method for spamming everyone with ads all the goddamn time, or monitoring for subversive behavior, or whatever?

I don't know. If I were an academic I'd have serious qualms about going down any route related to big social or location data.


This is a very good question, and one we ask ourselves all the time. Roughly, my team's research falls into two categories. The first is: how can we use all of this rich smartphone data to create better models of ourselves, the places we go, and what we do? I think that this kind of data could have tremendous benefits in terms of healthcare, sustainability, transportation, city planning, safety, and more.

The second is: how do we manage all of the resulting privacy issues? We've been developing new ways to understand people's privacy concerns of apps, new system architectures, and better kinds of user interfaces. For example, how far we can go by keeping the data local on your device? Can we also gauge people's expectations of smartphone apps, essentially using crowdsourcing to help with privacy? For example, most people don't expect Angry Birds to use location data, but on Android it actually does. (You can see more info about our crowdscanning work here).

And these two questions are the heart of the matter. On the one hand, more information can help us tremendously. On the other hand, the same information can sometimes be abused, lead to unwanted social obligations, lead to unwanted interruptions, be embarrassing, or worse.

It's a tough balance, and it gets hairier when business models are thrown in. For example, once your business model is advertising-based, you have a really strong incentive to collect as much data about people as possible. Fortunately, pretty much every company I have talked to is acutely aware that they need to address the privacy issues. However, they also often don't know what to do, and that's because in large part there aren't any commonly accepted best-practices here.

For example, with computer security, it's clear that you should be doing things like iteratively hashing stored passwords, using SSL, running standard exploit testing tools, and so on. However, for privacy, what's the equivalent? The Fair Information Practices only go so far and were created in an age when databases were the key issue. What's worse, privacy is often context-dependent, making it really tough to have standardized tools or methods. And just to stir things up even more, there are a rapidly growing number of sensor technologies and data logs that can be used to infer things about you.

So, all of the above is a long-winded way of saying, I really don't know what the answer is. Ultimately, technical solutions can only go so far, and we really need better legal solutions and social norms to help guide us. Fortunately, one really positive thing that has resulted from Snowden's disclosures is the greater discussion in the public sphere about how much data there is out there, and what should be the rules governing data collection and analysis, by governments as well as by companies. But where that will lead us is still up in the air.
posted by jasonhong at 4:19 PM on December 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm not surprised given the other stuff that's come out. Obtaining the data is technically trivial, right? Then it's just a problem of data storage/retrieval and clustering. Am I wrong on this?
posted by PMdixon at 4:24 PM on December 4, 2013


Guaranteed that metadata includes categorization of things like "emotional tone" and "subject of conversation". Commonly available matural language processing toolkots can already do this. The NSA has far more advanced software.

IOW, they have the gist of what you said, where and when you said it, who you said it to, and how emotionally engaged you were in saying it. And, if certain keywords or emotions were expressed, they'll have a verbatim recording.

All of this is hands-off. It's not spying if an algorithm does it.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:28 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


And presumably nobody's going to be arresting them for the billions of violations of wiretap laws in which they are so clearly engaging.

If you are in Texas one has a duty to report crime by public officials, the DA has a duty to take suspected law-breaking by public officials and reduce it to an information and present to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury in Texas is to investigate into any charges that come to their attention by any means. As Mr. Kelton will point out in Texas approaching the Grand Jury when sequestered is a no-no. But handing them info while they are on the toilet at the Pizza Hut - that's ok.

Draft up a criminal complaint and submit it via what your local statutes say. Consider asking to be on the Grand Jury if you have things like the Texas statute.

Well given that are options are always vote this guy or vote for that guy who both agree with this what the hell can upset people really do about this?

You are in Wisconsin...Milwaukee I want to say.

So "run the routine" as Mr. Kelton would say. About once a month he talks about becoming the tar baby on the Rule of Law radio show and running the routine. Listen to a few of Mr. Kelton's shows and learn about the routine.

Wisconsin statue 968.,01(2)  The complaint is a written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged. A person may make a complaint on information and belief. Except as provided in sub. (3) or (4), the complaint shall be made upon oath before a district attorney or judge as provided in this chapter.

If you are "A Person" Mr. Srboisvert - you can make the complaint. (Suggestion - go look at criminal complaints already filed in Milwaukee County and make yours look like that.) What you are asking the Judge to do is to take your oath for the criminal complaint. You do it right, every tongue will wag in both the City of Milwaukee municipal courthouse and the County courthouse. Wander over to Marquette Law school and look up caselaw/how the paperwork looks like in O'Conners.

Now no where do I see a duty for the Judge/DA to respond in 968. But you as the citizen (or sovereign - you choose whatever word makes you happy) have the right to have A Judge or the DA notarize that complaint and that may create a duty - this is not something that would have been briefed out/caselaw I'd bet. Based on 1 person I'm aware of who took some criminal complaints to a Judge in Wisconsin got a song/dance, seltzer down the pants and told that the Judge who was asked stated that he would prefer to not sign that. As an added bonus a dis-barred Judge in Wisconsin has stated that he threatened to invoked 968 as a Lawyer to get the DA/police to do something in the case per the same source.

You are a citizen, just like the Cop who swears out a complaint. So act like a citizen, or perhaps act like the sovereign and tell the people who work for you to do their job.

Don't forget the ability to file bar grievances VS any lawyers in the mix. Mr. Kelton discusses what a lawyer can be grieved for.

Put their bodies in the way and not leave until the abuses stop.

You will need people to be Court Watchers. In some states a notary can act as a Court Reporter per statute. If your state allows notaries to act as a court reporter - become one and walk into a courtroom, announce how you want to record a case and watch the fun. (The best tale on this was in a divorce case - the Judge refused to come out and hear the case and someone else walked all 3 over to the Jail and had the meeting in the jailhouse instead.)

An attempt to organize court watchers
City of Milwaukee sponsored Court Watchers
A non profit in New Orleans to Court Watch (Why not visit the world-famous School Factory and ask James to be the 'sponsor' for a 501c3 court watcher effort in Milwaukee Mr. Srboisvert?)
Another Court watch effort

Think of "hacking" the legal system. Understand the rules and then use their written statues VS them.


Feel free to call 512-646-1984 from 8-12 PM CST on Friday and ask Randy Kelton to clarify any/all of the above. Who knows, you might learn something about Mortgage fraud as that seems to be the Friday topic of choice.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Faraday pouch was on my long-term to acquire list, moving that up.

If you don't have a removable battery, never believe that your phone is off.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder how far we are away from a world where this information becomes the fodder for subpoenas issued to prove someone's location in criminal cases, divorce proceedings and the like?

Already been done. Used such records in my own cases to show that my phone and by inference I was also at a location in a billing dispute. $50 for the records from "a" phone company.

Go ahead - give your cell phone legal department a call tomorrow to find out what you can get and what it'll cost you.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:38 PM on December 4, 2013


anemone of the state: "Well given that are options are always vote this guy or vote for that guy who both agree with this what the hell can upset people really do about this?

Put their bodies in the way and not leave until the abuses stop.
"

Oh for a Ford Prefect.
posted by symbioid at 4:58 PM on December 4, 2013


Guardian: We have published 1 pct of Snowden leak

Fuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu ck.
posted by NiceKitty at 5:01 PM on December 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Generally, tho, as a gay man the recently-revealed-and-there's-still-more-under-the-sheet scope of the security state really truly makes me think that a Tea Partyist government would be an existential threat to me. Like, Handmaiden's Tale shit.
posted by PMdixon at 5:01 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


there is no requirement for a warrant to obtain this data. There has never been a federal warrant requirement for information shared with a third party. The conclusive case was from 1979.

Smith v. Maryland was about pen registers. This is about the NSA tracking records from hundreds of millions of cell phones every day, the vast majority of whose owners are suspected of nothing, and it is about the NSA doing so in secret, without allowing the body politic to exercise informed consent over the methods used to police us.

It is about the fact that our legislative branch is allowed to pass laws, but is by and large forbidden to know how those laws are implemented. It is about the fact that the scope and limits of what the government considers to be lawful conduct are kept secret from its citizens. It is about the fact that these behaviors amount to a de facto set of secret laws.

And if Smith v. Maryland really was clear on the subject of what is and is not allowed, and if the bounds of lawful conduct really were clearly known by the American people, the Snowden revelations would have had a small fraction of their current impact.
posted by compartment at 5:05 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


really truly makes me think that a Tea Partyist government would be an existential threat to me

So then now is a good time to learn how to attempt to protect your rights.

Because that threat is supposed to only act in legal ways....you might want to figure out how to stand up for yourself in Court. an attempt at such an effort.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:07 PM on December 4, 2013


Ya know, I don't have a cell phone. I wonder if that fact itself has me on a list somewhere at NSA headquarters.
posted by JHarris at 5:48 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ironmouth:

Thank you for your continued support. It does not go unnoticed.
posted by NSA at 6:01 PM on December 4, 2013 [33 favorites]


People snark about [PRISM] being an evil, James Bond villain-esque name but I never thought that for a second. I thought of it as a prism, a thing that takes the unimagineably massive bandwidth of a white light and breaks it into spectral colors. It's a wonderful metaphor for intelligence based data mining.

That's what they tell you to think, because it's a wonderful metaphor that's handy for putting a pretty face on something malignant and ugly that can't stand the white light of day.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:12 PM on December 4, 2013


An important thing about cell phone blockers is that you should turn off your radio (go into 'airplane mode') before using them. Otherwise your device will continually be trying to talk to a cell tower and eat through battery pretty quickly.

I've found this unit to be effective (2.50$, free shipping, expect it in about a month).

I've been told that when the NSA goes to hacker conferences [and presumably other places] they just pull the batteries from their BlackBerry's (but so many phones don't have this option). Undoubtedly they assume that they aren't the only ones watching.
posted by el io at 6:20 PM on December 4, 2013


jasonhong: Roughly, my team's research falls into two categories. The first is: how can we use all of this rich smartphone data to create better models of ourselves, the places we go, and what we do? ... The second is: how do we manage all of the resulting privacy issues?

Perhaps you could answer the second question by seriously questioning your assumptions in the first. So far, the examples you've listed in this thread (predicting whether people are friends on Facebook, using call logs and SMS logs to classify {family, friend, co-worker}, attempting to infer depression in people by inferring sleep patterns and social relationships) are not all that compelling as justification for being pretty damned invasive of private data on a massive scale. If there are "tremendous benefits in terms of healthcare, sustainability, transportation, city planning, safety, and more" to be gained by snooping, while somehow managing to magically avoid the data's misuse, they're not evident to me based on your descriptions.

mediocre: People gave permission for this. Be it the blind permission people grant companies every day with Terms Of Service Agreements or the implied permission of knowing they have a phone that can pinpoint their location on the planet to the square foot. ... because it is the government, they cry outrage.

No they absolutely did not, not for this. That's pretty specious logic.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:28 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The saddest thing about this whole NSA clusterfuck is how not angry about it most people are.

I really don't know what to do about this, either. One of the very first leaked items, that the NSA has intentionally crippled cryptography standards should have been a complete fucking shitstorm, and yet it was ultimately business as usual.

Related (at least in my head) was this story I was hearing on NPR on the way home today... they were interviewing an environmentalist who was concerned about a particularly shitty railroad pass being used for transport of huge amounts of oil. Paraphrasing, "...are they just going to wait for a disaster before doing something about this?"

YES... FUCKING YES... of COURSE they are.

That's exactly how I feel about this. Masses of everyday people are going to need to be impacted directly by these actions, in a material sense. Apparently it's not sufficient to completely fuck with every person's human rights.
posted by odinsdream at 6:58 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree generally odinsdream, but:

I really don't know what to do about this, either. One of the very first leaked items, that the NSA has intentionally crippled cryptography standards should have been a complete fucking shitstorm, and yet it was ultimately business as usual.

Most people don't even know what cryptography is. But I think the right people were angry about it.
posted by JHarris at 7:23 PM on December 4, 2013


Just because there may have been a court case in 1979, that doesn't mean the issue is settled definitively. We do live in a democracy, and if we want to put a stop to this snooping, we can always change the law.
posted by empath at 7:38 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, to me it's pretty obvious that Smith and whatever other relevant cases rest on the assumption that it is logistically impossible to scale such things. I mean, what fraction of East Germany worked for the Stasi? 10%? And I'd guess that the NSA dataset has completeness they couldn't even dream of.

So maybe in light of different facts on the ground we should maybe think harder about those decisions.
posted by PMdixon at 7:46 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I'd guess that the NSA dataset has completeness they couldn't even dream of.

You don't have to guess - there is at least 1 ex-stazi who's said exactly that in op-eds.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:51 PM on December 4, 2013


jasonhong:

Incidentally, a lot of my research has been looking at how much we can infer about people based on smartphone data

Creepy. This is bad.

one of the longer-term goals we're looking at is, can we infer depression in people by inferring sleep patterns and social relationships

What do you plan on doing with this information? What good is it? I cannot think of a good way of telling someone "We think you might be depressed, based on the information we have gathered by spying on you". How is that going to help a depressed person and not creep them the fuck out and cause them to cut off friends and / or family who may have given you this information or something? I just cannot see this going well at all. I say this as a (thankfully now-functional) depressed person. This seems like a colossal invasion of privacy.

This seems kind of way creepier than what the NSA is doing, actually. And that's a tall order.

Your whole project makes me want to put my iphone into a blender, actually. Is there any way to keep my data from being used in your project or another project like yours? It seriously disturbs me.
posted by marble at 8:01 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I would love to see how this whole NSA thing would be "greeted" were it done and/or exposed with the prior President; something tells me there would be a bit more rancor, no?
posted by NiceParisParamus at 8:19 PM on December 4, 2013


It's not really a partisan thing per se. There's no constituency for civil rights and privacy on either side of the aisle in the US.
posted by PMdixon at 8:21 PM on December 4, 2013


PMdixon, that's exactly my point.
posted by NiceParisParamus at 8:27 PM on December 4, 2013


Your whole project makes me want to put my iphone into a blender, actually. Is there any way to keep my data from being used in your project or another project like yours? It seriously disturbs me.

There is a misunderstanding here. Radiation is not private. It turns out a lot of the internet is less private than it should be. Your smartphone and the apps on it are blasting out all kinds of shit all the time. So you answered your own question.

It's like if you are a frog, right? Jumping all around a pond, doing frog stuff, etc. The NSA, and other people, are discovering the exciting science of analyzing the ripples you make to figure out what kind of frog you are. You don't have any control of how people interpret your ripples. Once a ripple is made, anyone can see it.

So the mitigation then is don't make any ripples. Don't carry a phone, or carry a phone whose emissions are controlled and expected and heavily encrypted (which is hard) and modify your behaviour accordingly (even harder).

That's the only real way.
posted by tracert at 8:35 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is this Smith vs. Maryland or US vs. Jones? At least one Supreme Court justice believes the former should be revisited.
posted by ryoshu at 8:45 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


tracert: Unfortunately, many of us feel that simply acting in a way that makes fewer ripples and making ourselves more difficult to monitor will automatically make us a "person of interest". And more... invasive methods of monitoring will be swung into effect.
posted by NiceKitty at 9:07 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Let me just say that this far exceeds my expectation of what is possible.
posted by newdaddy at 9:16 PM on December 4, 2013


I would love to see how this whole NSA thing would be "greeted" were it done and/or exposed with the prior President; something tells me there would be a bit more rancor, no?

Yes, people were also pretty upset when your hero Bush ran illegal wiretaps, ParisParamus.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:22 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is this Smith vs. Maryland or US vs. Jones? At least one Supreme Court justice believes the former should be revisited.

Ironmouth has been made aware of the debate surrounding the smith v maryland case many times. Instead of engaging with that ongoing academic debate he pretends that it doesn't exist, and like an automaton regurgitates the smith v. maryland line ad nauseum. Apparently we shouldn't care that numerous distinguished legal scholars and Judges like Sotomayor have questioned the validity of the "3rd party precedent"; like good little Americans we should just bend over and take it.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:05 PM on December 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


If anyone is seriously interested at a more in depth glimpse at Sotomayor's legal reasoning I suggest pursuing her concurring opinion in the United States v. Jones case. The part relevant to the 3rd party precedent begins on page 5 of her opinion.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:10 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


We do live in a democracy, and if we want to put a stop to this snooping, we can always change the law.

What on earth makes you think the powers behind the NSA are limited by laws?

To maintain their immense wealth and security, TPTB will need to keep their fingertips on the pulse of the nation. They need meta-information that identifies friction so they can grease the wheels. Up the minimum wage by a few pennies to stave off an uprising; create a controversy that distracts the masses from a real issue; eliminate a too-popular rabble-rouser here and there.

The need exists and the funding is there. The data will be collected and meta-analysis will be performed. As sure as god made little green frogs, you will be spied upon. There truly is no alternative future.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:22 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are around seven billion cellphones in the world. I'm frankly surprised that the NSA is only tracking 5 billion cellphone locations daily.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:57 PM on December 4, 2013


brennen: “Somebody talk me out of my complete despair, because I can no longer seem to do it on my own.”
There's no way this can continue. Given the fact that it doesn't seem like anybody is going to manage to do much of anything about climate change, civilization doesn't look like it'll last out the century at the moment. Thank God I'll be dead.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:20 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


NiceKitty: "This all sorta works now, or at least we put up with it, because law enforcement is sporadic at best. But what happens when everybody can be arrested and locked-up at any time, because SOMEWHERE in their historical metadata there exists a pattern that suggests they may have broken a law. "

No, sporadic is even better. Not knowing whether someone will target you - for whatever inscrutable reason - has a much more chilling effect than consistent and uniform enforcement of big-brotherly systems like this.

I don't know much about the credibility of PEN, but they've published a survey report (pdf) suggesting that many writers in USA are already self-censoring.
posted by vanar sena at 6:06 AM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Radiation is not private.

Neither is the garbage in the cans on the curb. If you're rooting through it to infer intensely private information about the people who put it there, you are a creepy asshole, period.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:45 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


one of the longer-term goals we're looking at is, can we infer depression in people by inferring sleep patterns and social relationships

What do you plan on doing with this information? What good is it? I cannot think of a good way of telling someone "We think you might be depressed, based on the information we have gathered by spying on you". How is that going to help a depressed person and not creep them the fuck out and cause them to cut off friends and / or family who may have given you this information or something? I just cannot see this going well at all. I say this as a (thankfully now-functional) depressed person. This seems like a colossal invasion of privacy.


Good question. The scenario is *not* "your phone will be spying on you and reporting your data to unknown entities", which would lead to the creepy scenario you are legitimately concerned about.

We've talked to psychiatrists, and we've pinpointed three major use cases. The first is that it takes about 2-4 weeks to schedule a visit to see a psychiatrist. During this time, you can choose to install an app that can start getting data about you, so when you finally see the psychiatrist, they can make better and faster diagnoses. The data can still live all on your phone, and if you choose, you can show the data to your psychiatrist.

The second scenario is that when you are starting therapy or medication, again the psychiatrists have little insight into your behaviors outside of the one-on-one meeting. In other words, it can still be very hard to assess if you are getting better, and it often takes weeks to do so. So continuing to collect data can be very helpful here (especially since people with depression tend to miss meetings).

The third scenario is that after you have gotten better, continuing to collect data can help you avoid becoming depressed again. We believe that having visualizations of your own data might give you early warning signs, so you can make course corrections.

A possible fourth scenario is to have your smartphone offer useful interventions, as determined by you and your psychiatrist. For example, with Behavioral Activation Therapy, at a high level the idea is to list things that make you happy, and then do those activities (e.g. calling your grandmother, walking in the park). Currently, participants manually track their own goals, and people with depression don't always do a great job of this. With a smartphone, it could suggest appropriate activities and also help do the tracking for you.

So as you can see, we're designing our systems so that the people who use them have a lot of choice, are opting-in, and can hopefully see the value proposition as to why they might want to install the system.

From a more academic perspective, I call this the privacy variant of Grudin's Law. Here's an excerpt from an article I wrote about privacy and Google Glass:
This notion of the value proposition has been seen in the success and failure of many groupware systems as well. Jonathan Grudin, a scientist at Microsoft Research, long ago observed that those who do the work in using a groupware system have to be the same as those who get the benefits, otherwise the system is likely to fail or be subverted. My privacy corollary is that when those who bear the privacy risks do not benefit in proportion to the perceived risks, the technology is likely to fail.
posted by jasonhong at 7:03 AM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


These other four scenarios are also legitimately creepy.
posted by mochapickle at 7:28 AM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sys Rq: Neither is the garbage in the cans on the curb. If you're rooting through it to infer intensely private information about the people who put it there, you are a creepy asshole, period.

Which brings up an interesting thought: I wonder how upset we would be as a nation if we had to deal with billions of tiny robots sifting through every one of our garbage cans left at the curb, cataloging everything about us and our habits in order to store that information in a central database somewhere? I agree wholeheartedly...just because it's hidden via technology doesn't make it any less creepy or upsetting.
posted by samsara at 8:04 AM on December 5, 2013


Well, they pretty much already do that, just on the purchase end rather than the garbage end.

But, yeah.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:12 AM on December 5, 2013


So as you can see, we're designing our systems so that the people who use them have a lot of choice, are opting-in, and can hopefully see the value proposition as to why they might want to install the system.
~~~ TO ALL EMPLOYEES ~~~

We're excited to announce a new feature of our group insurance coverage! Beginning Jan 1 employees who enroll in BlueCross SadTrack® will be able to take advantage of a 10% reduction in your monthly premium! As always, because this is an employee-sponsored service, your enrollment is contingent on your agreement to our company privacy policy, which is available for your review.
posted by odinsdream at 9:00 AM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sys Rq I didn't mean to imply that it wasn't creepy. I agree with you, I think it's creepy as shit. The only point I wanted to make was that you can't stop anybody from analyzing the radio transmissions from your phone. The only thing you can do is control how much noise you make and when you make it.
posted by tracert at 10:27 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those of you wondering "what can I do about this?" who aren't ready, yet, to put your bodies in the way, well, the very least you can do is to do everything in your power to see that your representatives in Congress will shitcan the tragically awful FISA Improvements Act of 2013 with extreme prejudice. The USA Freedom Act is not without massive flaws but it represents at least a toddler-step in the right direction, so encourage your Congressfolk to support it, instead.
posted by mstokes650 at 11:07 AM on December 5, 2013


the very least you can do is to do everything in your power to see that your representatives in Congress will shitcan the tragically awful FISA Improvements Act of 2013 with extreme prejudice.

More specifically, you need to tell your Congressperson you're willing to spoil their next election if they don't.
posted by anemone of the state at 11:38 AM on December 5, 2013




(in a NSA control room somewhere in Washington)

"Sir, we have disturbing news from our flashlight app program, BLACKSHINE."

"What is it Eavesdropper Third Class Spimson, I was just about to spend some R&R in the holodeck, it had better be important."

"I believe it is sir. Take a look at these figures...." (Hands over a clipboard covered with panicked scrawling. His superior look it over and his face grows pale.)

"This... this is incredible. Use is shooting up over fully half of the surface of the entire planet, on a rotating basis! It's--"

"It's like some kind of alien worldwide conspiracy to deprive humans of light across entire swaths of the Earth's surface at a time."

"I know what it means! I'm going straight to to the top with this one. They thought we were crazy to track flashlight usage but who's mad now?"

"You mean you're going to Obama?"

"Obama? Pfft. I'm taking this past him, to the very top, to Chief Justice Roberts. With any luck we'll be able to keep FISA staffed with lackies and flunkies for decades to come. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm due at Quark's at 2100 hours."

"A night at the gaming tables?"

"You know it! I have seven bars of gold pressed latinum that I'm going to turn into a condo on Dagobah."
posted by JHarris at 11:58 AM on December 5, 2013


The flashlight app story isn't NSA-linked, of course. However, people need to be much more wary about what their always-on internet-linked handheld computers are doing.

The architecture of cell phones and cell phone networks needs to be completely rethought.
posted by anemone of the state at 12:12 PM on December 5, 2013


I know. Or at least, I think. The NSA could use a National Security Letter to get that information of course and we wouldn't know!
posted by JHarris at 12:24 PM on December 5, 2013




Which brings up an interesting thought: I wonder how upset we would be as a nation if we had to deal with billions of tiny robots sifting through every one of our garbage cans left at the curb, cataloging everything about us and our habits in order to store that information in a central database somewhere?

Already been done and I'd dig up links about concerns but The Blue would look at gold for sale/prepping and bitch and complain because some parts of the 'those types of sites' are unpalatable rather than accept concerns for their own value.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:58 PM on December 5, 2013


Welcome to the Memory Hole: Disappearing Edward Snowden

Remember how US troops in Iraq got some thousands of Dollars in LP gas delivered for many, many times the 'face value' of the LP gas? Remember how Congress had a hearing on the matter and opted to pay the bill?

Ok - now go find that story and dollar amount.
Try google VS other search engines.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:03 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Remember The Memory Hole?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:09 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


No.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:15 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]














Remember how US troops in Iraq got some thousands of Dollars in LP gas delivered for many, many times the 'face value' of the LP gas? Remember how Congress had a hearing on the matter and opted to pay the bill?

Got some links for that? It would be nice to do a comparison using more keywords. Given what you just said, Duck Duck Go doesn't turn up anything immediately useful.
posted by anemone of the state at 4:12 PM on December 8, 2013




Ubiquitous surveillance. What a state we've come to. The dystopian future made real.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:31 AM on December 9, 2013


Numerous cities are installing listening devices on buses to eavesdrop on passnegers

Recording conversations without the knowledge or consent of any of the parties is illegal. But legality apparently isn't that important anymore.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:37 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Legality is very important! It's illegal to expose the completely legal things that everybody knew the NSA was doing, and which it's only doing to protect us anyway. And the government cares very deeply about enforcing that.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:57 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Almost everything in the Snowden leaks was suspected beforehand by the people who understood technology and how the US government works. But now this information is out in the open, nobody can deny that it is happening any more.

The question now is: How will you resist these systems?

You can talk to other people. You can write. You can volunteer and organise. You can engage in non-violent direct action.

But if you resist enough to get noticed, the white/middle class privilege you (may) have been enjoying that has shielded you from the business end of this machine will disappear. Your online accounts and your cell data will be pored through by analysts. Your communications will be monitored. You will undergo extra scrutiny in airport security and border crossings.

It comes down to the question of: What kind of future do you want to live in? Because a future where the government can spy on what you say, where you go, and who your friends are in real-time is a pretty shitty future.

And remember that real, live analysts are expensive as hell. If you take a few measures to protect yourself, such as not carrying a cell phone, encrypting communications with as many friends and family members as possible, and browsing the net through TOR, you will make their job much harder.
posted by anemone of the state at 11:42 AM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]




I suppose this was obvious, but it goes to show how surrendering your privacy to corporations means that it's now open to the government, too: GCHQ and NSA 'track Google cookies'
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:35 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have a totally platonic crush on Conor Friedersdorf, who is brilliant:
How Americans Were Deceived About Cell-Phone Location Data

Seriously, why is this sort of thing not a front-page editorial in the major papers?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:26 PM on December 14, 2013


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