I came across an interesting article this morning while reading NPR (National Public Radio.) Written by Larry Abramson, the article explores how much information can be gleaned just from the metadata on your cell phone and email accounts. When broken down as Mr. Abramson has done, it gives us a whole new perspective on how intrusive this gathering of our personal day-to-day contacts with our family and friends really is.
In an experiment to discover the depth of the NSA’s poking around in our private lives, Mr. Abramson gave permission to Cesar Hidalgo, a professor at MIT Media Lab and a designer of a program called Immersion, to delve into Larry’s Gmail account. Immersion works much like the NSA’s data collection program. Although neither program can actually see what we are saying, they can garner quite a bit of info.
As Mr. Abramson explains it, the person we call the most—usually a spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend—will be at the center of our calling circle. In his diagram you will see his girlfriend is the large blue dot. In mere minutes, Immersion was able to determine information about Larry’s relationship with his girlfriend; meaning how long they had been in contact, and by the increasing frequency of contact, how close the relationship is. For further information on this, I encourage you to read Larry Abramson’s article at
Through leaks from Edward Snowden, we have learned that the NSA is able to follow these contact trails much further than Immersion can. This is how Mr. Abramson put it, “The NSA can pursue three “hops,” so it learns not just the name of my contacts, but those of my contacts’ contacts, and even my contacts’ contacts’ contacts.” If you study the diagram, you can see what he means.
Think about all the information the government can learn about each of us. Web-surfing, credit card purchases, phone calls—everything is out there. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. I’m sure we would be surprised to learn how many times a day we are photographed just going about our daily business. Two things come to mind when I think about this: Orwell’s “1984,” and the TV show “Person of Interest.” Big Brother is definitely watching!
How much protection do we as American citizens have from these intrusions? Can we really assume the government does not, or will not sometime in the near future, have the capability to read what we write? Or to hear what we say? Can we assume that no one working for the NSA will learn something that might tempt them to blackmail, or worse? And, interestingly, why weren’t the Boston Marathon Bombers caught before killing and maiming American citizens? If they cannot prevent terrorist attacks, what is the point of spying on “we, the people?”
Interesting questions, and another one comes to mind. How much freedom are we willing to give up in the name of security?
- How A Look At Your Gmail Reveals The Power Of Metadata (npr.org)
- Wall Street Journal Latest to Show the NSA Are Habitual Liars – (dslreports.com)