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NSA Big Data Collection: The Danger is in the Patterns, Not the Content

My old shop in Misawa, Japan.   One of now long dead political columnist Jack Anderson's, "secret overseas listening posts." (The revelation of which infuriated Richard Nixon & landed Anderson on Nixon's "enemy's list." ) 

My old shop in Misawa, Japan.  

One of now long dead political columnist Jack Anderson's, "secret overseas listening posts."
(The revelation of which infuriated Richard Nixon & landed Anderson on Nixon's "enemy's list." ) 


The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.
--Wole Soyinka


This is why what the NSA is doing, now the police are doing: "just collecting metadata" when they sweep up all the cellular telephone and internet data is so dangerous: 

By collecting "just metadata" what the NSA is actually creating is a deep, permanent database of the intertwined relationships of American culture. In the trade, the practice is called Signals Intelligence, a craft the military and spy agencies around the world have been perfecting for hundreds of years. 

What legal scholars focus on because they don't know any better is what is being said in these conversations, is pretty much irrelevant. What matters to the authorities are the RELATIONSHIPS, where people's paths overlap, and when and for how long. Consider this: 

Recently gun rights avocates were up in arms about the possibility of firearms background checks being retained.  They saw it as a sure path to a "government gun confiscation list."  While at the same time, however, ignoring the threat from their everyday patterns and communications. 

Many of the more government-paranoid gun owners have never bought a gun or ammunition where any sort of paperwork transferred hands.   They thought they could just "fly under the government's radar."  Not so.  

Here's how it works in the New Surveillance State of America:

 All a police agency needs is to request the metadata from two cell towers (two, so they can plot where the signals overlap).  Of course, both tower would need to cover a area of interest, like a gun store or shooting range. 

The agency, with the coerced assistance from the telcoms, grab every phone number (metadata) connected to the tower and store it. Then the law enforcement agency relates the positional information stored in each connection to the location of the gun store or gun range. This gives them a basic list of likely gun enthusiasts. 

Interactive Infographic Of The Day: Watch A Cell Phone Company Stalk A Customer: 6 months of movements, numbers dialed and received, internet & SMS activity retained. http://ow.ly/naDmq

Then the Law Enforcement officials begin tracking the telephone numbers they sweep up from around the gun stores and range.   It's not even work anymore, it's all done by computers:  
What other phone number that phone contacted. 
where that phone went, 
how long it stayed
what other numbers were in the same location at the same time
do those other numbers frequent the gun range? 

(it's all implicit or inferable from the cell data records, "just metadata"). 

This collection then cascades into a master list of likely gun enthusiast relationships.  It is then databased and warehoused.  Most leads will likely be dead ends, some will be persons of "of interest," but all are keepers.   That's because, just as all knowledge is valuable, all data has value...and data storage is dirt cheap.

Through these cell tower records, again "just metadata," the police has also tracked the movements of gun enthusiasts via cell tracking (even if GPS location setting are turned off on the cellphone). So now NSA can determine who met with whom, where and when they met. 

More importantly, the government will be smoking out those gun owners who'd purposely flown beneath the background check radar by only buying from individuals or at gun shows. These "under the radar gun owners" will tell on themselves by their associations and their locations, betrayed by "just metadata." 

Instant gun owner confiscation list, all without listening to a word of conversation and without any real warrant. 

This is all possible because of the advent of powerful HADOOP processors arrayed n huge server farms with nearly unlimited storage, using sophisticated NO SQL search engines. Using the unprecedented power, parsing, and storage capabilities, the government can, within a very short time, pull together all the RELATIONSHIPS of any person or group they wish to target, legally or illegally. 

The NSA Is Building the Country's Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say) | Threat Level | Wired.com http://ow.ly/naBTF 

Add in web and email traffic (not the content, just the relationships--"just metadata") and the government has a nearly complete picture of you, your movements, your core beliefs, and your contacts. 

It's also been revealed that the USPS has been electronically recording the address information on the outside of mail, so add that to the relationship mix, too. 

Old School Snail Mail 'Metadata' Still Being Harvested By The USPS And Turned Over To Law Enforcement/Security Agencies By Request | Techdirt http://ow.ly/naCXw

Finally, the police have been deploying license plate readers on patrol cars. These readers process every plate the police car encounters in traffic comparing it with wanted and stolen plates. However, the data is retained. So, when linked with DMV records and your cellphone, add that to the data pile of what the government knows about you and can track....even if you turn off your cellphone. Notice all the traffic cameras around: at intersections, along freeways.

You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to Record Americans' Movements | American Civil Liberties Union http://ow.ly/naD69

License plates are easy to read and catalog; and the reading and tracking software is getting better all the time. 

Identify, vilify, isolate, & harass. It's what governments do. The worst governments will also "eliminate." 

Now, if you believe that the government is benign and you've got nothing to hide, that's just naive. Those who believe that lack any sense of history and have no imagination. To paraphrase the comic strip Dilbert: "it's clear you will not survive by your wits."

Some day, maybe not during this administration but in some future administration --perhaps an administration in your child's adult future-- that administration will be tempted to use this information against the citizens...or more likely, some subset of citizens. 

Add in the various "watch lists" the government maintains and you should be concerned, at the least. 

Isn't it amazing how quickly the politicians and the administration are to label some person or group a "terrorist threat" or a "person of interest."   
So, who can be targeted as the new American "terrorists" using this data: those who oppose policies of the government: Gun Owners Occupy Wall Street protesters Anti-G8 protesters People of religion or a subset of some religion anti-war protesters animal rights activists Internet freedom activists Internet privacy advocates school reformers the poor the rich business owners environmentalists oil-frackers soccer moms Republicans Democrats

All of us would have trouble trying to account for every movement, every verbal shot fired in anger on the internet, every meeting, every telephone call. They --business or the government-- can break you just by keeping your in court for years. 

All it takes for your government to turn on you is for you to join some group actively opposing what that government says or does. Since none of us agree with our government all the time, you, too, hazard the risk of being labeled a "terrorist."   
The real danger is that we will let the fear of being targeted keep us from participating, from correcting our government when it's wrong. 

All it takes is a few highly-publicised electronic crucifictions, martyrdoms for any cause, to have a chilling effect on any resistance to the government's will. 

additional reading: 

Signals intelligence in modern history - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://ow.ly/m9BOL How The FBI Caught Paula Broadwell - Business Insider http://ow.ly/m9h0t

Phew, NSA Is Just Collecting Metadata. (You Should Still Worry) | Wired Opinion | Wired.comow.ly/mhHwF

Bush-Era NSA Whistleblower Makes Most Explosive Allegations Yet About Extent of Gov’t Surveillance — and You Won’t Believe Who He Says They Spied On | TheBlaze.com http://ow.ly/mmAzf

My New Year's Self-Change Project

My New Year's Self-Change Project

Sea breath. Sea breathe. Sea breeze.

Sea breath. Sea breathe. Sea breeze.