Skip to comments.Our Internet Surveillance State
Posted on 04/20/2013 1:03:03 PM PDT by zeugma
I'm going to start with three data points.
One: Some of the Chinese military hackers who were implicated in a broad set of attacks against the U.S. government and corporations were identified because they accessed Facebook from the same network infrastructure they used to carry out their attacks.
Two: Hector Monsegur, one of the leaders of the LulzSec hacker movement, was identified and arrested last year by the FBI. Although he practiced good computer security and used an anonymous relay service to protect his identity, he slipped up.
And three: Paula Broadwell, who had an affair with CIA director David Petraeus, similarly took extensive precautions to hide her identity. She never logged in to her anonymous e-mail service from her home network. Instead, she used hotel and other public networks when she e-mailed him. The FBI correlated hotel registration data from several different hotels -- and hers was the common name.
The Internet is a surveillance state. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we're being tracked all the time. Google tracks us, both on its pages and on other pages it has access to. Facebook does the same; it even tracks non-Facebook users. Apple tracks us on our iPhones and iPads. One reporter used a tool called Collusion to track who was tracking him; 105 companies tracked his Internet use during one 36-hour period.
Increasingly, what we do on the Internet is being combined with other data about us. Unmasking Broadwell's identity involved correlating her Internet activity with her hotel stays. Everything we do now involves computers, and computers produce data as a natural by-product. Everything is now being saved and correlated, and many big-data companies make money by building up intimate profiles of our lives from a variety of sources.
Facebook, for example, correlates your online behavior with your purchasing habits offline. And there's more. There's location data from your cell phone, there's a record of your movements from closed-circuit TVs.
This is ubiquitous surveillance: All of us being watched, all the time, and that data being stored forever. This is what a surveillance state looks like, and it's efficient beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell.
Sure, we can take measures to prevent this. We can limit what we search on Google from our iPhones, and instead use computer web browsers that allow us to delete cookies. We can use an alias on Facebook. We can turn our cell phones off and spend cash. But increasingly, none of it matters.
There are simply too many ways to be tracked. The Internet, e-mail, cell phones, web browsers, social networking sites, search engines: these have become necessities, and it's fanciful to expect people to simply refuse to use them just because they don't like the spying, especially since the full extent of such spying is deliberately hidden from us and there are few alternatives being marketed by companies that don't spy.
This isn't something the free market can fix. We consumers have no choice in the matter. All the major companies that provide us with Internet services are interested in tracking us. Visit a website and it will almost certainly know who you are; there are lots of ways to be tracked without cookies. Cell phone companies routinely undo the web's privacy protection. One experiment at Carnegie Mellon took real-time videos of students on campus and was able to identify one-third of them by comparing their photos with publicly available tagged Facebook photos.
Maintaining privacy on the Internet is nearly impossible. If you forget even once to enable your protections, or click on the wrong link, or type the wrong thing, you've permanently attached your name to whatever anonymous service you're using. Monsegur slipped up once, and the FBI got him. If the director of the CIA can't maintain his privacy on the Internet, we've got no hope.
In today's world, governments and corporations are working together to keep things that way. Governments are happy to use the data corporations collect -- occasionally demanding that they collect more and save it longer -- to spy on us. And corporations are happy to buy data from governments. Together the powerful spy on the powerless, and they're not going to give up their positions of power, despite what the people want.
Fixing this requires strong government will, but they're just as punch-drunk on data as the corporations. Slap-on-the-wrist fines notwithstanding, no one is agitating for better privacy laws.
So, we're done. Welcome to a world where Google knows exactly what sort of porn you all like, and more about your interests than your spouse does. Welcome to a world where your cell phone company knows exactly where you are all the time. Welcome to the end of private conversations, because increasingly your conversations are conducted by e-mail, text, or social networking sites.
And welcome to a world where all of this, and everything else that you do or is done on a computer, is saved, correlated, studied, passed around from company to company without your knowledge or consent; and where the government accesses it at will without a warrant.
Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we've ended up here with hardly a fight.
This essay previously appeared on CNN.com, where it got 23,000 Facebook likes and 2,500 tweets -- by far the most widely distributed essay I've ever written.
How the Chinese hackers were identified:
How Sabu was identified:
How Paula Broadwell was identified:
Data brokers building intimate profiles:
Correlating online behavior with offline purchasing habits:
Data harvesting from social networking sites:
Cell phone surveillance:
Carnegie Mellon identification experiment:
Google's StreetView fine:
The death of ephemeral conversation:
National Security Letters:
The value of privacy:
Our Internet Surveillance State
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Such a exponentially huge amound of info must surely be useful to only the most basic statistical analysis.
Imagine a worker in a cubical being given a 500,000 page print out and asked to find who in there likes Rice Crispies or has ever said FUBO.
Important data (e.g gun registration) is not comparable to favorite ice cream. The government already chokes on the amount of data it has so far, and it sure as heck doesn’t make us any safer. The best antidote is to make government smaller and keep it from nosing into the wrong areas.
While I agree with you about information overload making it difficult to pinpoint any single person, they can use computers to comb the raw data with surprising efficiency.
The computer age is truly a different era of human history with different benefits and different dangers. We must learn to live with it because it is impossible to unplug ourselves.
It is almost certain that future homes will be computerized to the point that everything you do is do in your home will be recorded as “green mandates” turn off lights as you exit a room and control the thermostat to reduce heat or air where it is not needed. The technology already exists and the cost benefit already pays for itself.
Technology is a blessing and a curse.
LOL.They aren’t surveilling me. They took up residence in my computer! Who knows what this little laptop is responsible for.
For the record. If I’m connected to anything except criticizing the State, I didn’t do it. ;^)
Now after the Boston bombing, I see the media and pundits are all happily assuring us that we need more Surveillance.
A lot of the info is sold to advertisers.
Woohoo and howdy! to the black suit behind my screen.
[Imagine a worker in a cubical being given a 500,000 page print out and asked to find who in there likes Rice Crispies or has ever said FUBO.]
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Yeah... just posting on this thread probably registers me in some government database as a malcontent.
Actually, it's quite the opposite.
Overwhelming with paper records, fairly simple with a data base.
If you use a grocery store affinity card, your grocery store already knows you buy Rice Crispies on a regular basis. They probably already send you email with Rice Crispies coupons...
Nice list of articles.
Wait until that brand spanking new NSA facility gets up and running in Utah
“Welcome to a world where your cell phone company knows exactly where you are all the time.”
Well, at least they know where my cell phone is all the time. Funny they won’t bother to help locate it when someone steals it though.
Dr. Johnny Fever was right.
Johnny: [after hearing the sirens] It's the phone cops. They know what I did here today.
Venus: What are you talking about?
Johnny: They're coming to get me, man!
Venus: That's paranoia, man!
Johnny: Wake up, sucker, this is the phone company we're talking about! They see everything, they know everything, they got their own covert police force! I'm probably wired for sound right now! I gotta get out of here!
Johnny: Don't use my name!!
If it were just that, it wouldn't be a big deal. The problem is. both Big Government and Big Business have programs to do all the scut work. Data mining is big freaking business and it's really only in its infancy. It's only going to get worse. You think you have anonymity on the internet, but unless you are taking really drastic measures to limit how they track you, then they are, and the data never goes away. I've seen emails I've sent to mailing lists 20 years ago that ended up on the net.
Well, at least they know where my cell phone is all the time.<<<<
I keep losing my cell phone, and since they know the location, would they be willing to help find it? Do they have a toll-free number I could call?
Me: Hello Phone Surveillance, my cell phone is missing, again. Any ideas where it might be?
Phone Surveillance: Hello, Lucy. Your phone is in your pink blouse pocket in the laundry basket.
Me: Okay, thanks! ‘Bye now.
Phone Surveillance: Wait! There’s more. One of the buttons is loose and needs repairing before you lose it, too.
Me: Oh, I hadn’t noticed... well, thanks again. G’Bye.
Great piece,we risk it all every time we stand up for what is right.Truth is it really doesn’t matter anyway. If the regime or others want you they simply make up. fabricate BS and off you go.
LOL! I love your humor. Maybe they could suggest what new phone I should get.
Thanks for the PING!
Wait! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh...did I just....???? Oh, damn you blasted interweb thingy!
Absolutely agree. Smaller government would be beneficial all the way around. Another way to combat the information vacuums is to give it bogus information any time you can. The more garbage the system contains, the less useful are conclusions drawn from it.
Yes. I did nothing but data mining in my previous employment.
I could extract key phrases out of anectodal text data from terabytes of tech center trouble calls. ID the product type, problem description, and ANY OTHER phrase the quality dept. thought useful.
These were not fielded data base records, just typed in responses to customer trouble calls. The telecom industry had to report outages etc.
I compiled all this into reports showing equipment type and problem type, as well any anthing else wanted.
I then automated it into a single push button on a menu that downloaded, processed, and presented all this.
And this was a while back...