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Matt Blaze Examines Communications Privacy

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the still-a-lot-left-to-lose dept.

Privacy 44

altjira writes "Matt Blaze analyzes the implications of a recent Newsweek story on the Bush administration's use of the NSA for domestic spying on communications, and questions whether the lower legal threshold for the collection of communications metadata is giving away too much to the government: 'As electronic communication pervades more of our daily lives, transaction records — metadata — can reveal quite a bit about us, indeed often much more than a few out-of-context conversations might. Aggregated into databases with other people's records (or perhaps everyone's records) and analyzed by powerful software, metadata by itself can paint a remarkably detailed picture of connections, relationships, and other patterns that could never be recovered simply from listening to the conversations themselves.'"

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44 comments

Indeed ... (2, Insightful)

Skal Tura (595728) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249265)

Indeed, metadata is a powerfull thing, very powerfull.

Infact, it's metadata which matters the most. An real world example of the power of metadata is Google. Basicly, the ranking works because of metadata, originating as metadata or derived from the content of the page.

Re:Indeed ... (4, Informative)

caffeinemessiah (918089) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249329)

An real world example of the power of metadata is Google. Basicly, the ranking works because of metadata, originating as metadata or derived from the content of the page.

While probably correct, there really isn't much substance to your comment, so I decided to add some links to one of the best examples of exploiting metadata: network analysis (or applied graph theory, depending on your bent). It's been applied to webpages, phone call records (using just who calls whom), scientific collaboration networks, social networks, and a whole bunch more. The following links make for some interesting reading about the scope and power of exploiting metadata (at least the introductions):

PageRank, HITS: rank webpages as authoritative based on the links between them (i.e. assume that good pages link to good pages, etc.) PageRank [tugraz.at] Analyzing the web [dcg.ethz.ch] web communities based on link structure [intelligence.tuc.gr] analyzing scientific collaborations based only on patterns of co-authorship and co-citation [cornell.edu] another one like the previous [arxiv.org] (although as a computer scientist, i don't think much of mark newman, he writes well).

Remember kids, it's popular because it works!

Bad for innocent, neutral for guilty (2, Insightful)

Techmeology (1426095) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249267)

This is just another example of something that penalises innocent people who just want to communicate, while barely hindering those who are up to genuine mischief. These bills are usually designed to counter terrorism. One fatal flaw: most terrorist organisations would have someone with the technological experience to find a way around such monitoring - like routing network traffic through servers in foreign countries, or using TOR.

Re:Bad for innocent, neutral for guilty (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26250545)

This is just another example of something that penalises innocent people who just want to communicate

How? How does it even affect us in the slightest, that some peripheral details of our phone calls might be in a government database? I don't give a damn if the NSA know I talked to Mom on Christmas Day, as long as they aren't listening to the conversation.

One fatal flaw: most terrorist organisations would have someone with the technological experience to find a way around such monitoring

And how did you become such an expert on terrorist organisations, pray tell?

Seems like these days everyone on Slashdot is not only pretending to be a lawyer, but a politician, cryptographer, and expert on international criminal behaviors as well.

Why would the NSA or the FBI want to waste their time looking at records of me calling Mom? They're looking for criminals and terrorists. That's ALL they're looking for. They wouldn't bother with this kind of metadata if they werent finding stuff in it that related to criminals and terrorists.

Therefore I invoke Occam's razor, which in this case means assuming that the NSA and the FBI know more about what terrorists and criminals do than Mr Techmeology of Slashdot does.

Too late (5, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249347)

Just look at websites like Facebook and Myspace. You are basically telling those companies, through their website, who you are, who your friends are, where you like to hang out, etc. There is a rapidly decreasing margin of privacy for the government to encroach on; just quickly looking through someone's Facebook profile tells you who their friends are, and which of those friends they hang out with the most (based on which friends are most likely to appear in pictures with the target of interest). That's enough information to track down and capture a person, and nobody had to leave their office or interview anyone. The worst part? People are voluntarily giving this information to Facebook, Myspace, Friendster, and so forth.

Re:Too late (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26249521)

If you're worried about big brother listening in, you're most definitely doing something illegal, and you are a terrorist. burn in hell.

Re:Too late (1)

slugtastic (1437569) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249553)

I don't think many terrorists use Facebook or Myspace.

Re:Too late (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26249635)

It depends on what definition of "terrorist" you use.

The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday.

source [washingtonpost.com]

Re:Too late (1)

slugtastic (1437569) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249739)

Well then, I guess we can clasify spiders as terrorists because they create fear among the arachnophobic population.

Re:Too late (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26254235)

You know what?

As much as I've hated the last eight years, I support COINTELPRO-like surveillance of so called 'peace activists'. If there certain individuals within groups that hate America that much, and have been consistent critics for years on end, AND would gladly like to see America fall, then to hell with them.

I'd rather see jackbooted thugs pounding away on vengeful idiots, than a revolution followed by a neo-stalinist who wants to murder all the white male capitalists.

Fuck the extreme left.

Re:Too late (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249713)

Privacy and the right to privacy have nothing to do with terrorism either. The illegal mass wiretapping performed by the federal government had nothing to do with terrorism, and neither did the war in Iraq. Just because someone utters the words "war on terror" does not mean that everything they do is in some way related to capturing terrorists. As a case in point, several FBI agents have been discovered working undercover in peace groups, under the veil of "terrorism related investigations."

Re:Too late (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26252303)

Actually quite a number of them do. Or at least those Arabic facebook groups that translate to "Attack America" and "I love Osama bin Laden" and his English fan page seem to indicate so.

http://news.scotsman.com/latestnews/Terrorists-recruiting-on-net-via.3786178.jp (Feb 08, there are more recent and current examples but that's a good one)

Re:Too late (2, Insightful)

e-scetic (1003976) | more than 5 years ago | (#26251431)

Hrm, not quite.

If I decide to disappear, none of my current friends and acquaintances would know where to find me. Facebook would be useless.

What the authorities would need to do is find all the long lost childhood friends and acquaintances from any one of the many places I used to live as a kid, assuming they would remember anything if found.

HOWEVER, having said that, I didn't grow up on Facebook, kids these days are different. With Facebook their childhoods are pretty much on record.

Makes me wonder if children should be prohibited from using Facebook, hrm.

Re: telling the truth about themselves (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26312041)

And who says that all Facebook and Myspace users are telling the truth about themselves and who are their friends and so on?

I tell Facebook and Myspace only that I want them to know.

Some people love to live in a fantasyworld, like in Facebook and Myspace. I shouldn't never trust on anything written on Facebook and Myspace.

The communiocations spying via telcos and NSA... (1)

3seas (184403) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249411)

... wasn't to find terrorist, but to weigh the public response so to know how best to manipulate the public via the media, so to support political agendas... such as the war on Iraq drum banging bandwagon for public approval.

It is because such information can be used in such a way, and inherently will be as who wouldn't make use of such information to achive their own agendas, especially when they think they are doing nothing wrong?... that such information should not exist.

However, there is no stopping it now but it can be made public where it's destructive value can be neutralized as was the stock market formula that lead to the trillion dollar bet [pbs.org] , made public to neutralize it.

 

Not big boom; but, lotsa boom... (5, Funny)

RalphSouth (89474) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249477)

Personally, I try to work the words "bomb plan", "explosive" or "sulfuric acid as a catalyst" in all of my instant message conversations online. The poor analysis software must get lonely without stuff to find in most communications.

Of course a real anarchist bomb making skeptic might also include words like "tax dodge" or "after downing street" in their mail...

Re:Not big boom; but, lotsa boom... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26249571)

I do similar things, except with "goatse", "buttsecks", and "industrial strength lubrication".

Re:Not big boom; but, lotsa boom... (1)

Bios_Hakr (68586) | more than 5 years ago | (#26254457)

There used to be a FireFox plugin that would do a random Google search in the background. It would search for things like "fluffy kitten" or "kiddie pr0n" or "bomb + whitehouse". Things like that.

The first plan was to completely screw up any analysis software. The second idea was to give plausible deniability if your computer was ever seized.

I'm not sure this is "metadata" (3, Interesting)

MikeURL (890801) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249537)

TFA is referencing lists of transaction information that, in and of itself, is valuable stand-alone data. As such I don't think it should be called metadata.

I know that the definition is not written in stone but in my own interpretation metadata, by definition, is useless without access to the data it describes. In the case of transaction records they are valuable even without reverence to the actual content of the calls.

A more appropriate use of the word may be information that describes the file size, record length, etc, of the transaction records themselves. I do worry that calling transactions "metadata" might cheapen the value of those records because IMO those records ARE data.

Re:I'm not sure this is "metadata" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26251119)

One man's data is another man's meta-data.

Re:I'm not sure this is "metadata" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26251589)

But it does sound like a 21st Century version of the Watergate scandal mantra of "Follow The Money"...

Suggestion (4, Interesting)

chrb (1083577) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249601)

If the government argues that meta-data isn't important and doesn't need to be protected, then the citizens should demand that the government also abide by this and release all communications meta-data relating to government employees. It might open the eyes of a few to see who their elected representatives actually spend their work days talking to. It would also massively boost the case for greater government transparency.

Traffic analysis (2, Insightful)

yali (209015) | more than 5 years ago | (#26251509)

Why not extend this test to national-security information? I bet if you ask the military, CIA, NSA, etc. whether they would consider their own "meta-data" as less sensitive than the actual content of messages, they'd say no. The history of traffic analysis [wikipedia.org] in military and foreign-policy applications is a pretty good indication of that.

Link analysis (2, Informative)

crankyspice (63953) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249609)

Having done some considerable work with, e.g., Analyst's Notebook (http://www.i2inc.com/products/analysts_notebook/ [i2inc.com] ), metadata can be an incredibly powerful tool. When you can work with the information in a flexible manner and see the patterns emerge ... Lots of things become clear, or at least point to powerful inferences.

Re:Link analysis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26266403)

This comment will not be saved until you click the Submit button below.
You failed to confirm you are a human. Please double-check the image and make sure you typed in what it says.

To confirm you're naAfter a thousand Brooklyn Bridges, hundreds of thousands wow gold [questmonk.com] of pet rocks and millions of Creed albums later, ol' P.T. may have been on to something. But Tuesday night, wow gold [psii.org] the fans -- the consumers -- got it right and got their money's worth.t a script,

The NSA program was and is illegal (3, Insightful)

$beirdo (318326) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249651)

The fact of the matter is that this NSA program was illegal. The Newsweek article suggests that several high-ranking members of the Justice Department were aware that the program was illegal, and did nothing to stop it.

Such a violation of the law represents a fundamental failure of our system of government to protect the rights of its citizenry. Because the Bush administration has willfully broken the law, the federal government no longer has the moral right or authority to govern the people of the United States.

Barack Obama needs to take drastic steps, including impeachment and prosecution of all those within the Bush administration who have broken the law, if he wishes to restore the validity and authority of the federal government.

One more time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26249723)

The only communications the government listened in on were calls FROM this country TO other countries. IF the call was routine, then it was dropped. IF the call was about terrorism, then your asses were protected from it. Got it?

Re:One more time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26249893)

Of course "phone sex" calls to armed forces members in Iraq fell into the nonroutine category.

Re:One more time (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 5 years ago | (#26249933)

The only communications the government listened in on were calls FROM this country TO other countries. IF the call was routine, then it was dropped. If the call was about terrorism, then your asses were protected from it. Got it?

The 4th amendment forbids this. Telecommunications laws based on the 4th amendment forbid this. Even the most basic analysis of privacy [wordpress.com] forbids this.

Just because something may be of benefit to the government does not mean the government has permission to do it. There are other issues, and some of them are intended to take priority. No matter how annoying that might be to the government.

Absent probable cause, oath or affirmation, a description of what they are searching for, and a warrant, they are forbidden to search or seize the communications of the people.

Got it?

Re:One more time (1)

Hotawa Hawk-eye (976755) | more than 5 years ago | (#26251309)

How do you know this to be true? You'll forgive me if I ask for more proof that the surveillance was legal than the words of the officials who ordered and/or performed the surveillance.

Re:One more time (1)

convolvatron (176505) | more than 5 years ago | (#26252381)

you're right. we should have some kind of place we can come together, present evidence, interpret the law, argue for both sides, and come up with a decision. presided over by someone deemed impartial , with alot of experience in the law.

Re:One more time (1)

altjira (758779) | more than 5 years ago | (#26251939)

The only communications the government listened in on were calls FROM this country TO other countries. IF the call was routine, then it was dropped. IF the call was about terrorism, then your asses were protected from it. Got it?

Read the articles. The NSA program covers internal calls within the United States without a warrant.

Right wing d*ckheads simultaneously believe ... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26249865)

i) The Gubmint is evil and should be destroyed

ii) This surveillance, and more, is necessary for the Gubmint to save us from all those nasty Tourists

Says it all really

just remember who voted for fisa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26250437)

your lord and master obama.

Who ran roughshod over FISA? (1)

catman (1412) | more than 5 years ago | (#26250679)

GWB's administration, that's who.

And who legalized it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26250703)

Obama, that's who.

Re:Who ran roughshod over FISA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26251135)

gwb was on his way out anyway. it's not a logical argument to make. there is a democratic majority in the legislature and has been now for 2 years. obama is not going to overturn anything. the patriot act will stand as is. mark my words. or is it too hard to admit that your boy is no different than the other party's meager offerings? bwahahahahaha!

New class of people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26250611)

I don't particularly object to loss of privacy or to people being held accountable for anything regardless of how they are caught, but I do object to the creation of a new class that is allowed to snoop and know things the rest of us don't. I'd favor making _everything_ obtained through any kind of wiretap or other spy techniques public unless there was a reason to keep it classified, and that should be reviewed periodically.

What bullshit (1)

PingXao (153057) | more than 5 years ago | (#26251775)

There IS no debate in the context cited. The Bill of Rights lays to rest any questions about what the .gov should be able to do. The fact that they are doing things that go AGAINST the Bill of Rights is something nobody disputes. The only debate should be about HOW to prosecute those officials who have enabled and participated in crimes against the our rights as American citizens.

Unfortunately we can't even get to the plateau where everyone agrees something needs to be done. This country IMO is done; it just took the financial aspects a while to catch up.

Re:What bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26258477)

"This country IMO is done; it just took the financial aspects a while to catch up."

No it's not. The system inherently self corrects. The only problem is that it takes time for it to do so.

Unfortunately today it all reads like a bad soap opera script. Bush did the dirty deeds. Now we get Obama (and all of his media cheerleaders) who will pretend he's doing all he can to undo all the damage until of course we find out that he too, has been in on it all along.

Somewhere down the line, maybe 50 years or so if we're lucky, the people who pushed for all of these BS laws will be defeated or dethroned by conscientious people who care about and respect what our country was founded upon. Only then will the country finally nullify these BS laws that were passed. I've no doubt that our great system will iron them out but I seriously doubt very many of us will live to see it.

good! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26266373)

After a thousand Brooklyn Bridges, hundreds of thousands wow gold [questmonk.com] of pet rocks and millions of Creed albums later, ol' P.T. may have been on to something. But Tuesday night, wow gold [psii.org] the fans -- the consumers -- got it right and got their money's worth.

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