back to article NSA in new SHOCK 'can see public data' SCANDAL!

In the latest round of increasingly-hyperbolic leaks about what spy agencies are doing with data, reports are emerging that the NSA has been graphing connections between American individuals. Moreover, it's using stuff that people publish on their social media timelines to help the case along. According to this item in the New …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. GaryDMN

    Top to bottom, the Obama administration is the most corrupt the USA has seen in a century. The NSA, CIA, DHS, DOJ, EPA, and IRS are all guilty of breaking laws, but they are even denying the existence of any scandals.

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      I assume you single out Obama on technical grounds? The well-known warrantless wiretaps under his predecessor were declared retroactively legal, after all.

      1. VBGuy

        ThomH, it has gotten much worse under Obama. They now collect all the content of emails and phone conversations. That's what the new data center in Utah was built for, so they could store more. So they collect it and "supposedly" don't look at it without a court warrant from the secret court, FISA, that you will never know about. That court has only denied less than 10 out of 11000+ warrant requests. Can you say "rubber stamp". Oh, yes, there are also reports that NSA analysts have used the system to "stalk" their love interests. Wonder how many of them are in prison?

      2. BillG Silver badge
        Megaphone

        Oh, Grow Up!

        He singled out Obama because the NSA, CIA, DHS, DOJ, EPA, and IRS all work for him.

        And with all due respect, BUSH ISN'T PRESIDENT ANYMORE!!! So shut up, get over yourself, and grow the &%@#$ up.

        Modern liberals seem to lack a sense of personal irony. Whenever Obama is caught red-handed doing something that openly and blatantly violates the Constitution, something he specifically campaigned against, and has the complete and total personal authority and power to stop without needing approval from Congress or anybody - something Obama can stop with one telephone call - modern liberals cry and whine that "Bush did it so it's O.K. for Obama to do it NOW SHUT UP I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALALALALA WHAAAAAAAA!!!!"

        I'm a Kennedy liberal and I can't get over the hypocrisy of modern liberals. I'm embarrassed to call myself a liberal by today's standards. My loyalty is to my principles and causes. But today's liberals focus with a creepy, cult-like adoration on personalities with the belief that the object of their adoration can do no wrong.

        The liberals of my generation stand by the value of "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it". Modern liberals hate that statement.

        1. ThomH Silver badge

          Re: Oh, Grow Up! (@BillG)

          Saying "this person also deserves criticism" with the implicit point being that blame doesn't divide along party lines isn't really an indicator of political leanings.

          Conversely, trying to frame any criticism of Bush as necessarily liberal propaganda does suggest somewhat of a bias.

          My interpretation of events since 2001 — the terrorist attack, not the change of administration — would be that these agencies have spiralled beyond anyone's control. The whole point of the constitution is that it creates competing interests and no single actor has control of all powers. Trying to pin all your national problems on this president or that party is inaccurate and unhelpful.

          1. BillG Silver badge
            WTF?

            Re: Oh, Grow Up! (@BillG)

            Conversely, trying to frame any criticism of Bush as necessarily liberal propaganda does suggest somewhat of a bias

            Your missing the point. This isn't about blame, this is about AUTHORITY AND ABILITY.

            Obama has the unrestricted authority and ability to shut down these programs illegally spying on Americans because the agencies doing this are directly under his control. Agreed?

            So, the question is, Why doesn't Obama keep his promises and shut these illegal programs down? (hint: saying "Bush did it" is not an answer).

            At this point liberals are screaming "I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALALALALALAA NOW SHUT UP!!!!!!"

            1. Gav

              Re: Oh, Grow Up! (@BillG)

              You do realise that waving the feebly derogatory "liberals" stick around just damages any point you might want to make? Even if you want to qualify that with a "modern liberals".

              A few points of clarification for you; Making up insulting names for those you disagree with is for school children. Those who support Obama are not "liberals". I'm not sure what you'd call them, but "supporters of Obama" or "Democrats" might come close.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Obama has the unrestricted authority and ability

              Obama doesn't even have the "unrestricted authority and ability" to pass his budget or shut down Guantanamo - the US Presidency isn't as simplistically authoritarian like that. It'd not be surprising (if, hypothetically, whatever) that he might have similar problems (as eg budgets, Guantanamo) shutting down this or that NSA program should he happen to decide he wanted to.

              1. BillG Silver badge
                Holmes

                Re: Obama has the unrestricted authority and ability

                The President has the unrestricted authority to mange, or cancel, any funded U.S. government program that is run out of an agency of the Executive Branch. You should read up on the Executive Branch to see what that statement means. Congress can't interfere with the President shutting down a program under his control because that violates Separation of Powers as well as Article IV, S. 4 of the U.S. Constitution.

                That means that any Agency that is a part of the Executive Branch is directly under Obama's control.

                Now, the President cannot do anything that is not funded, but Executive Branch programs that *are* funded he can shut down because they are a part of the Executive Branch and he is the head of the Executive Branch. All he needs to do is issue an Executive Order. For further proof, note that there exists no mechanism to punish a President that shuts down a program under his authority.

                I suggest you get a basic book on the U.S. government and learn how this works.

                It is entertaining to note that, during the recent U.S. government "shutdown", Obama has CHOSEN not to cancel these expensive surveillance programs, but he HAS chosen to defy Congress and cancel the investigations into whether or not these programs are illegal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      With all due respect this started under Bush

      With all due respect, what we see now started on Dubya's watch. As far as NSA downloading all accessible social media data and treating telecoms metadata to build social graphs, sorry I do not get it - what is new here?

      Most of the el-reg readership who read the first leaks groked that one. You do not need to decrypt the entire internet if you have managed to analyze it down to "interesting conversations". Interesting means both "conversations with subversives" as well as "conversations with a subversive pattern". All classic "isolation" schemes used to protect "resistance" such as "know only 3 neighbours", etc shine like beacons on the social graph.

      This is also why NSA talks to the likes of LinkedIn, F**Book and Tw*tter - it is ansilliary data to refine the graph. This is also why its claims that it takes only "specific" data from there are not believable. If you use specific data to feed into a statistical or neural net number-cruncher you bias it. You need the whole raw feed in order for it to produce the correct results.

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: With all due respect this started under Bush

        With due respect, this started well before "Dubya's watch", probably before 1950.

        1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: With all due respect this started under Bush

          I have to agree that after nearly 5 years, these programs are now Obama's baby, not Bush's.

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Top to bottom, the Obama administration is the most corrupt the USA has seen in a century. The NSA, CIA, DHS, DOJ, EPA, and IRS are all guilty of breaking laws, but they are even denying the existence of any scandals."

      Set up by Shrub over a decade ago.

      Obama's crime is to allow this "State of Fear" to continue.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, I'm sure that all this was setup during the Obama administration and is absolutely nothing to do with the previous administration. No, they were all whiter than white and never did anything wrong or morally dubious in any way.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's new is that it demolishes the previous claim that the Agency is only spying on non-Americans.

    Sure, the stuff that people post on social media is public.

    But the idea that Americans were somehow "exceptional" and ergo exempt from spying — that's out the window now.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      re: social media is public

      Assuming you friended the NSA !

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Joke

        Re: re: social media is public

        "Assuming you friended the NSA !"

        Have you read the T&Cs?

      2. CommanderGalaxian
        Terminator

        Re: re: social media is public

        "Assuming you friended the NSA !"

        https://www.facebook.com/NSACareers?ref=ts&fref=ts

    2. Ian McNee
      Stop

      @AC 02:31 - out the window two and a half years ago...

      Cast your mind back to the spectacular Anonymous hack of HBGary Federal in early 2011. Aaron "Fail" Barr shot his mouth off about how clever his social media scraping software was at tracking down Anons by graphing public social media connections. This was all part of bigging-up himself and HB Gary Federal to get fat FBI contracts as well as all sorts of other questionable deals with corporations and govt. agencies wanting to snoop on US and other citizens.

      Of course that particular episode had (at least partially) a happy ending as he was very publicly handed his own sorry butt by Anonymous. The story is well-documented on Ars Technica .

    3. Don Jefe
      Meh

      Logic Chain

      How do you propose the NSA determine if someone is a foreigner without spying on them? The NSA can't predict the future either so they have no way to determine if someone might become a foreigner. In today's globalized markets that could happen.

      Short, but relevant, anecdote: Years ago I was working on a contract in a National Park Service office that was being remodeled. The staff were moving things around that they needed access to and/or out of the way and they needed to move an empty filing cabinet.

      The office chief said the cabinet might exceed lifting weight limits so he rang up a Federal Services depot in Rockville, MD (70 miles away) and had a large scale delivered. They brought the scale in and left, and the staff proceeded to lift the cabinet onto the scale to determine if it was too heavy to lift! It was, in fact, too heavy and they were calling the service depot back to send movers.

      All this made my head hurt so I went over, popped the drawers out and sat the cabinet on the scale and the staff verified they could now move it. That insane logic chain that led them to violate the rules so they wouldn't violate the rules is everywhere in US government. I doubt the NSA is immune, we already know they're clowns, so it might even be worse with them.

      1. Oninoshiko

        Re: Logic Chain

        Easy:

        If they cannot determine it, they don't spy.

  3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Crack down on childporn?

    So now who has the worlds biggest collection of under-age self photographs then.

  4. dan1980

    Yet more cards removed.

    There's nothing new - it's just another indication of the mindset and goals of the US Government, working through the NSA.

    It's a bit poetic really - you take all the data points and when you piece them together you have a very solid picture of what is going on with them.

    What has been shown repeatedly and now without doubt is that all assurance of due process and oversight and best intentions are bunk. Each revelation (not that this is overly revelatory) has returned increasingly poor defences until finally they have fallen back to: "what we did was technically legal".

    Whether any given program of collection was legal or not is largely beside the point; the issue is whether it is in the best interests of the people and, trumping even that, whether the people want it. It doesn't matter if you can point to some secret court setup by a secret vote that okayed secret spying in a secret decision.

    The question the Government and the NSA have to ask themselves is: "If the people had full knowledge of what we are doing, would they approve of it?". It's clear that the Government and the NSA realised that the people would NOT approve of it because they lied and evaded and talked around the issue once they were found out.

    In short, they knew full well that the people would not and do not approve but did it anyway.

    Worse, once they were found out, everything they said to try and placate the people and explain their behaviour turned out to be a lie.

  5. Resound

    I still find it bizarre that they're allowed to spy on citizens of other countries - over whom they have no juristiction - but not citizens of their own country. I can only imagine the lurid tantrums that would be thrown if another country's intelligence agency was known to be gathering as much information as it could about US citizens.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, it is strange. On the other hand, this policy does help to reinforce an US vs. THEM mentality.

      Since 9/11, Americans have been told repeatedly that the country is at war with the rest of the world, with the implication that anybody not on the side of the US (e.g., the UN, France, Russia, etc.) might as well be supporting the enemy. So, it is natural that the US "needs" to spy on all non-Americans. It "makes sense" because "of course we can't trust them".

      What is not questioned here, is that the same surveillance system has and will be used against Americans too, especially those who dare to question the status quo. During the 1960s, after all, the FBI surveilled Martin Luther King, and tried to use recordings of his romantic affairs to destroy him. The then-Assistant Director of the FBI sent King an anonymous letter threatening blackmail, and suggesting that he commit suicide as a way out.

      Surprisingly, this use of the surveillance system for political blackmail is not well-known in the US. Perhaps people would react differently to the current revelations if they knew the history.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "I still find it bizarre that they're allowed to spy on citizens of other countries - over whom they have no juristiction - but not citizens of their own country. I"

      Well in theory that's where most "threats" come from.

      But the fact US citizens still tend to feel they have a right to privacy means they might lawyer up and start pressing charges.

      1. FuzzyTheBear

        At the time of writing , the worst threat to the USA is the Tea Party.They are the enemy of any social measure that helps those in need. They are the " faction " that shut down the government. They are the ones supporting domestic spying and support the agencies breaking the law . Look no further , there is no need , the Tea Party is THE enemy of the People . Worldwide.

    3. ratfox Silver badge

      Fairly standard

      I used to do military service in electronic warfare, i.e. listening to the radio. We were only allowed to "identify", but not listen to, civil communications in our country. Everything else was fair game, including baby listening devices and old wireless phones which were still using non-digital transmission. We had trigonometric detection of the place of emission, so we could know that it was coming from outside the country.

    4. VBGuy

      " I can only imagine the lurid tantrums that would be thrown if another country's intelligence agency was known to be gathering as much information as it could about US citizens." They're called the Chinese.

    5. big_D Silver badge

      The same everywhere

      Bizarre? It is standard practice, the UK is the same, GCHQ is only allowed to spy on Johnny Foreigner, not Johnny English. Germany is the same. The "spies" are generally allowed to spy on the outsiders for their xenophobic masters, whilst the internal police and security forces are only allowed to spy on their own citizens with court approval.

      As you can't get court approval in a foreign land for spying on their population, the spies get pretty much carte blanche to spy in those lands, on the proviso that what they are doing is technically illegal and they could end up at the wrong end of a short piece of rope and a long drop or the wrong end of a bullet.

      This is at odds with what the government and its agents are allowed to do at home, which is covered by law, so spy agencies are generally not allowed to sh1t in their own back yard.

      That said, they sometimes set up recipricol agreements, you spy on our citizens and give us what you get and we'll spy on yours and we'll tell you that we have given you everything we found .

  6. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Peeping Toms are never ever the sharpest of bods in smarter fields of alien foreign boffin interest

    The most revealing aspect to those who and/or that which be contemporaries/adversaries/competitors to NSA type operations is their abject failure to do anything remarkable with the information/intelligence which they might be discovering when trawling/phishing/snooping/skulking.

    And of course, all such organs are highly susceptible to immaculate grooming which delivers to them that which they cannot do without in order to stay ahead and in the lead of their games.

  7. Cliff

    Free intelligence

    Did anyone really believe an intelligence agency whose whole basis was building intelligence would ignore free material from social media providers? They'd be mad to pass it up, especially as they're publicly funded so have to get the best for their taxpayer dollar!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Free intelligence

      Don't forget it might work the other way around. Social media hight be funded in part by the NSA in order to put in features that collect as much useful data as possible.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Free intelligence

      Free? I thought a CIA front was one of the backers for Facebook...

      Quickly dons tinfoil hat, those black helicopters outside look menacing.

    3. Black Rat

      Re: Free intelligence

      " ...free material from social media providers? They'd be mad to pass it up... "

      Understanding the data however is a three edged sword: your side, their side, and the truth. One wonders how often does a lie need to be repeated across the internet before agents are dispatched to investigate?

    4. Don Jefe

      Re: Free intelligence

      You're correct as far as you go but have missed the terribly wrong part of all this. They are combining this 'free' intelligence with intelligence they shouldn't have been gathering in the first place.

      It is like getting a free sample of food at the grocery store then robbing that persons home refrigerator later that night. Doing one thing according to accepted practices doesn't offset doing something wrong.

  8. Schultz

    Perfectly legal

    According to some FISA court opinion, the NSA has to expect a > 50% probabililty that the snooping subject is a foreigner to hoover data. By indisciminately snooping on the whole world population, the probability to snoop on a US citizen is only about 300 M / 7 G, i.e. some 4 %. All legal then.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Perfectly legal

      Perfectly legal according to a Star Chamber court with according to the 'fundamental American Law' is illegal. Of course they have used our system of laws (particularly General Welfare and Protection (Laws of so called necessity according to them)) to circumvent our laws and protect their otherwise criminal endeavors.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    And let's not forget that with Facebook servers based in the US THE PATRIOT Act

    Makes it all legal anyway.

    So with all this data and all this graphing how many actual terrorists have they caught

    Because I can think of a couple recently who weren't.

    BTW This is the same BS the UK Home Office pushed with the Data Communications Bill.

    1. dan1980

      Re: And let's not forget that with Facebook servers based in the US THE PATRIOT Act

      Don't be so quick - I think you'd find that such a graph exonerated the NSA rather smartly and feel you would be quite chastened were you to realise just how many otherwise catastrophic terrorist attacks have been stopped by these well-targeted, thoroughly vetted, constantly scrutinised and completely proportional reactions.

      Well, you _would_ but unfortunately we can't let you see all that data that really does show we've been protecting you all quite efficiently and thanklessly all this time.

      Jokes aside, right now the US Government is in the midst of a big backlash and if there were real supporting figures, then they would be used to help justify these programs and paint Obama as a great and selfless patriot (lower case). Instead we have him standing up saying he "welcome(s) this debate". Sure.

  10. Chris Miller

    Easy answer

    Let's start a web campaign to overwhelm their listening capabilities by flooding the social media with trivial and irrelevant nonsense. Oh, wait ...

    1. Bloakey1

      Re: Easy answer

      Why not fllood them out with selfies of older gentlemen with impressive equipment [1]?

      I think that is a certain quid pro quo at work here. the NSA has systems that are not secure, users that are dodgy and procedures that do not work. Hmm, a bit like the people that they are spying on. This Interweb thingy is a lark.

      I am currently setting up some secure PGP Blackberries for people. Word has got around and they might find that certain areas start to go dark mighty quick.

      1. Linux gear, routers, servers of every hue, OS2, OSX, DOS and even the mighty Millenium..

  11. cortland
    Mushroom

    Boom

    It can't be "hyperbolic," surely? How about "hypergolic?"

  12. Eugene Crosser

    Social network != "Social network"

    Someone on reddit makes a good point:

    A lot of people commenting are confused by how New York Times is using the term "social network." They're not talking about Facebook, Myspace, etc. They're talking about the NSA secretly building graphsyour real-life social network without warrants: everyone you talk to, do business with, etc.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Social network != "Social network"

      Yes, that's definitely the impression I got from reading reports over the weekend. They mine all your data and then fit you into their social relationships model.

      1. Bloakey1

        Re: Social network != "Social network"

        Yep. That is what i took it to be. Pattern analysis, life style analysis etc.

        Soon we will be getting phone calls saying a certain Mr Terry Taliban amd Seamus O' Bomber want to add us as friends

  13. Chris G Silver badge

    "Read him his rights!"

    " You do not have to say or do anything but anything you do say or do or you have ever done or said, transmitted or received via any medium can and will be used against you (sometimes in a court of law)."

    You read you new rights here first.

    Given the vast warehousing government agencies must have and the ability to collate everything more efficiently, this is what we have to look forward to.

    What I find fascinating through all of this is just how quiet the FBI and other agencies and governments are while we are all looking at the NSA.

  14. Drbig

    Only totalitarian regimes follow their citizens

    I have regularly travelled to China for the last 30 years. In the 1980s you used to hear stories of people who were followed by plain clothed agents. I remember one story of a rather delicate australian woman who upon realizing she was being followed by a state agent, promptly vomited because the revelation was so gut wrenching.

    Sure, all of this was in "public", but the fact that the state is trying to compile data on personal movements, though they be public is still extraordinarily disturbing. Even if data on social media is public, which a lot of it isn't, (I personally don't release data except to close friends). The fact that the NSA is hoovering up all this data for later analysis on everyone is just as totalitarian as sending out plain-clothes agents to follow everyone around in public.

    The fact is that the NSA has gone far beyond the surveilance that was carried out by the totalitarian regimes of Communist Russia, East Germany, Communist China and the Nazis. It is right that we are outraged, appaled, indignant and insistant that it must stop.

    1. dan1980

      Re: Only totalitarian regimes follow their citizens

      Spot on.

      The behaviour being demonstrated here is quite simply: if we CAN do it, we will. As the old saying goes, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Only totalitarian regimes follow their citizens

      @Drbig > "I personally don't release data except to close friends."

      NSA edit: "You THINK you personally don't release data except to close friends."

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    News?

    What news? That 'governments' and their agents are corrupt is no news to anyone that has been paying any attention at all or at least should not be. The American Experiment in Law and Government that came into existence in 1787 is and has been failing for years.

    Some of those that were participants in the formation of it felt that the average American was incapable of self governance (See Hamilton and his reference to them as beasts.). They understood that the majority did not have the education or understanding of the fundamental laws necessary to keep those they placed in positions of 'trust' in check and accountable to them. This combined with apathy (seemingly no interest in learning the necessities) has lead to the position we are in today wherein our 'servants have appointed themselves our masters' while drawing on the system of laws.

    Our 'Public Servant Masters' are not accountable to us and have created laws that protect them, as well as, many other institutions (Big Business) created under the authority of our system of laws. The 'new morality' seems to be that the bottom line (Showing record profits) always justifies the means no matter how damaging it may be to the majority of People. This seems to be the case all through government starting with City Halls and emanating up through the international levels today. It seems to fit the 'modern day business practices' as well.

  16. JTOMM129

    Oh no Mr. Bill!!! It's Benghazi all over again! (And again, and again . . . )

    1. Bloakey1

      Yep. UK.Misc?

      Howver with all this data it will become a bugger to mine.

  17. Titus Technophobe
    Stop

    Revelations ??? Really ?

    I am astounded by both this article and the comments. An analogy of this diatribe is it’s a bit like storing your pet goldfish in a tank of hungry piranhas and then running around going OMG OMG the bastards ate my fish.

    So what you peoples are saying is:

    ‘I am horrified that when I post in a public forum people I don’t know might read it’?

    ‘or worse organisations whose raison d’etre are reading it’?

    When you sign up for Facebook and Twitter you agree to all sorts of people using your data. What is your problem? Piranhas eat goldfish (*1) , marketing and intelligence organisations ‘eat’ data, if you hand them goldfish on a plate, surprise, surprise they think dinner is served?

    (*1) At least the Hollywood portrayals of Piranhas, I admit to no personal knowledge of piranha’s dietary behaviour. But as a plus I can assure any vegans out there that neither goldfish, nor piranhas were harmed during the posting of this comment.

    1. dan1980

      Re: Revelations ??? Really ?

      For me, Drbig above nails it.

      Facebook walls and twitter feeds might be considered public information but by that logic, so is the brand of shoes you wear, what train you catch in the morning, what you eat for lunch and how you have your coffee. So to are any words you exchange with a loved one in a public place or the groceries you pickup on the way home.

      All that is public information but I doubt I am the only one who would much rather that information not be collected, collated and cross-referenced.

      As Drbig said, this collection of every scrap of public information about a person is like being followed by someone all day, everyday, seeing them across the aisle from you on the bus or walking 2 steps behind you in the grocery store, diligently marking down every item you put in your basket. Well, he didn't go to that detail but the point is that that is all technically public information and, by your logic, we should feel no outrage at all were a government agent to follow us around night and day recording every thing we do and every interaction we have.

      I can only speak for myself but I suspect that it's not just me that nevertheless feels very much outraged at this level of surveillance.

      The problem is that privacy laws have not kept pace with technology. In time gone by there was a certain amount of physical resources required to map out the life of a person. This naturally limited how much data could be gathered on any one person and also, how many people could be subject to such intrusive monitoring at any one time.

      Now, that barrier is removed.

      This is an IT site and one of the perennial questions is what exactly IS 'Big Data'. Well, for me, big data signifies the point where the breadth of data collected causes new information to appear.

      A great article I once read showed one of the first successful attempts with 'big data'. As I recall, it was at Target (or similar) and the system worked well. Too well in fact. In the end, I understand a big wakeup call was when a father of a young girl came into the store demanding to see the manager. He was upset that his daughter had been receiving coupons and special offers in the mail related to maternity wear - this despite the fact that she was clearly not pregnant.

      It turned out that the young girl was, in fact, pregnant. What was proven was that through collection of enough publicly-available information, you can infer some very private details - details that people might not wish to share and did not explicitly make 'public'.

      The store had never met the girl nor even seen her. Even if they had, it would have done no good as she was not showing yet. Her own father, whom she lived with, had not yet realised she was pregnant and yet a store down the street, relying on nothing more than a collection of data points, had correctly deduced that this young lady was carrying a child.

      There is a big difference between reading someone's twitter feed and sifting every tweet, forum post, youtube comment, product review and Facebook update that person has ever written and cross-referencing the output with similar results from their family, their colleagues, their neighbours and indeed everyone they know and a great many people they don't.

      That's before you even start to merge that data with the information that is not normally publicly accessible - phone records and e-mail history and so on.

      So no, it's not an irrational fear of our peers reading our ramblings; it's a completely justified concern - and even outrage - that government agencies are compiling every word we write and every action we take into searchable profiles that reveal things about us that even our closest confidants don't know.

      I decided not to spellcheck this because I am really tired. Sorry if the rant got away from me (more than normal).

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Revelations ??? Really ?

        Prior to the PATRIOT Act it was illegal for most US government agencies to share data amongst themselves precisely because of privacy concerns and the possibilities for future misuse of that data. There were inefficiencies built into the system as a safeguard.

        Out of fear, those prohibitions have been removed and the intentionally bureaucratic quagmire of paperwork largely done away with. Thing is it costs more now that inefficiencies have been removed and interagency data sharing is now possible. More money, still doesn't stop terror attacks and liberties have been eliminated.

        Not One Single Part of the post 9/11 anti-terror strategy has provided increased protections over what was already in place. It all needs to stop and be assessed, it isn't working.

        1. Titus Technophobe

          @dan1980

          The point I am making is that there is little point getting outraged about something you signed up for and get for free. That is if you sign up for either Facebook Twitter or a Tesco Club card you are agreeing to people collecting and processing your information.

          The pregnant girl point you make above sounds far more like a Tesco club card than either of Facebook or Twitter but that said it is valid. When you get the thing you agree to them collecting your data. Surely you shouldn’t be too surprised when they do just that and get it right?

          I understand your concern about government agencies but personally don’t think they are likely to collate every word as you write and say. There are a few reasons for my thoughts:

          • I seriously don’t think they would be motivated to do so, most do acknowledge the existence of the DPA and HRA

          • They couldn’t afford the disk

          • Also probably not competent enough to collect the data in the first place

          I hope the train journey home is a little better than this morning?

          1. Titus Technophobe
            Stop

            @Don Jefe

            The machinations of the US government, the PATRIOT act and associated privacy concerns due to departmental data sharing are very much a matter of indifference. At the end of the day they are a foreign power, and will collect what data they can from me how they may.

            I was intrigued by the support offered to the recently organised EFF protests. If you read the small print carefully the only people who benefited were Americans. Now then I don’t have anything against Americans, but without appearing too unsympathetic how about you chaps fight your own protests on the Internet? They are your liberties not mine for which you are fighting.

            1. Don Jefe

              Re: @Don Jefe

              I agree with you. We shouldn't be spying on any private citizens without just cause, no government should. Governments spying on each other, that doesn't bother me. That has always been done and will always be done as long as any two governments both have commercial interests in the same places.

              But spying on private citizens of any nation is wrong. It is doubly wrong coming from a government who has justified every large scale military action since the 1950's as some sort of 'principled mission of great calling'.

              You can't be the standard bearer for high minded principals if you don't follow those principals yourself. Follow them at all times, through the good and the bad, otherwise they aren't principals, they're just so many words and we are weaker for not living up to them.

          2. dan1980

            @Titus

            @Titus

            I believe it was a loyalty card but the point I was (poorly) trying to make was that the data collected allowed the company to infer details about someone's private life and that company actively pursued those deeper connections and used them.

            The information willingly shared was "I want to buy unscented cocoa butter and vitamin supplements"; the information distilled was: "customer is 8 weeks pregnant".

            The important factor here is that the information was not deduced from the shopping habits of that one person; even taking the data from the whole store, they wouldn't have been able to reliably make these connections. It was only by pulling in data from hundreds of thousands of customers across dozens of stores that the patterns started to emerge and people started having their private lives laid bare through nothing more than shopping history.

            In other words, the shopping history of one person tells you what they buy; the shopping history of a million people, collated and cross-referenced, tells you who they are.

            It is disturbing enough when retailers start processing this data - one with an affiliated insurance arm found that people who buy carrots (or whatever) have fewer accidents - but what the NSA is doing is on a truly unprecedented scale.

            Train was quiet enough to get some work done, thanks : )

            1. dan1980

              . . . cont

              Just to be clear, my point is not that the NSA is collecting information from loyalty programs (though they likely are as retailers on-sell a good measure of that data). I am simply using that example to illustrate how collecting a lot of data allows different kinds of connections to be made and can turn simple data into a quite revealing window that many people feel uneasy about the government looking in through.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Revelations ??? Really ?

          @ Don Jefe - Prior to the PATRIOT Act it was illegal for most US government agencies to share data amongst themselves...

          Prior to the PATRIOT Act, I believed in goblins and fairies and flying pink elephants.

  18. Crisp Silver badge

    I wonder how much NSA spooks get paid to sit on twitter all day...?

    Well if I'm going to waste time browsing social media all day, it would be nice to get paid for it!

  19. Havemysay99

    I'm Shocked

    No one complains when your employer checks its employees facebook and twitter feeds and it must be remembered that some of the most recent atrocities within both the US and UK have been carried out by its own people and not terrorists, we want to be safe to go about our business, but complain about how that saftey is being assured.

    1. Don Jefe
      Stop

      Re: I'm Shocked

      But safety isn't being assured. All the surveillance has had zero impact on the frequency of an already rare event. As you point out yourself, the most recent attacks have happened while these 'safety assurance' programs were underway. They don't work.

      1. bitmap animal

        Re: I'm Shocked

        @ Don Jefe - "All the surveillance has had zero impact on the frequency of an already rare event"

        What makes you think that? Are you assuming that because every time the security services disrupt an upcoming event it isn't covered on the front pages of newspapers for days?

        Do you really think that it is in the interests of how they operate to let the world know how they stopped something? That is a very blinkered view. Sometimes the 'bad guys' get lucky and slip through the net, nothing is infallible.

    2. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: I'm Shocked

      @Havemysay99

      Sorry, I have to call you out on "No one complains" ... a lot of people have complained. Even here, on El Reg. So please don't make sweeping statements like that.

  20. Velv Silver badge

    I love the comments above. I love the comments Merkins are making about their lords and masters. I love the irony that the article is about the snooping of published information on open forums and Merkins are commenting on the article denouncing the practise... which will immediately be schlurpped into the NSA database and tagged to the offending Merkin.

    And don't for one minute think Anonymous Coward affords any protection from the NSA!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yep, and there's a rubber hose waiting with your name on it too. :D

  21. david 12 Bronze badge

    passenger manifests

    Bastards made that secret for "privacy" and security reasons decades ago. Good luck getting a look at a passenger manifest if you are NOT a secret TLA.

  22. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Joke

    They could use Lord Vetinari's argument

    He stated that it makes more sense to spy on friends than on enemies, because you already know what your enemies think of you. By contrast, understanding your friends better by spying on them makes you even better friends.

    So really, the NSA want to be your friend

    Really

    Honestly

    We are only spying on you for the best reasons possible

  23. Purlieu

    Well, I fin’ly started thinkin’ straight

    When I run outa things to investigate

    Couldn’t imagine doin’ anything else

    So now I’m sittin’ home investigatin’ myself!

    Hope I don’t find out anything . . .

    Bob Dylan - John Birch Society Blues

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Coo Coo!

    All this spying technology is fine until it falls into the wrong hands.

    History has shown us that eventually some General or other will announce a state of emergency and promote a military coup.

    The problem that the Yanks have got is that the coup already took place and almost no-one noticed.

    Among other things, 9/11 was a message to anyone that wanted to rock the boat that their house and entire family would be flattened.

    I don't believe that Obama has ever had much choice in the matter, he is just another mouthpiece.

    For Heaven's sake use your brains!

    Steel framed buildings do not collapse at terminal velocity into their own footprint due to fire. It is not scientifically possible.and there are respectable scientists and engineers on the internet who will say so.

    The Patriot Act is the equivalent of Stalin's "Article 58" i.e. " counter-revolutionary crime" and that didn't end well for a lot of folk.

    I don't expect anything will change, it's only "business" after all. We cannot be allowed to get in the way of the greediest people on the planet, they want it all. The scum will always rise to the top.

    1. Don Jefe
      FAIL

      Re: Coo Coo!

      Do you mean 'cuckoo'? Coo coo, or cooing, is what pre-verbal babies do.

      Also, I'm a reasonably well respected engineer (occasionally on the Internet as well) and you shouldn't talk about things you don't understand. I'm not going to argue 9/11 conspiracy myths with you, just let you know that you are taking about things way over your head and not even using appropriate terminology. It is best if you stop.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Coo Coo!

        Pidegeons!

  25. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    Who is the *real* Bryan Thomas Reynolds?

    American's seem to want to blame their incumbent president for this sort of s**t but the NSA is essentially a civil service agency (technically it's part of the USN, itself part of the DoD).

    In Enemy of the State it's called the "Telecommunications Security and Privacy Act" but we now call it THE PATRIOT Act.

    Proving that if you want to do something really sh***y in America, stick patriot, patriotism or some simile on it first.

    In order to identify the real "enemy within" you need to find who wrote it, and to what specification.

  26. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Why you don't want spies spying on *your* side

    Should be obvious really ... do you seriously see a politician saying to the spooks "Rummage around all you want in our dirty laundry" ?

    Remember there were very serious allegations that the spooks spied on Wilsons government in the 60s. Who knows what juicy "leverage" they gained over MPs ...

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What Twits!

    What Twits on social networks.

  28. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Big Brother

    What is missing in this story....

    I haven't read all the comments, but the article doesn't point out that the NSA's big data collation is already in place for non-U.S. residents and citizens for whom the u.s. constitution provides no protection. The NYT article points that out more fully.

  29. mego

    So, in summary

    NSA pretty much as bad as we all knew they were. And the story is...?

    1. dan1980

      Re: So, in summary

      The moment people stop being outraged and start just accepting that this is the way things are, that is the moment when the fight is lost.

      There is a window here to let the politicians around the world know that they have greatly over-stepped their responsibilities and that if they are going to justify their actions as for the good of the people then they have to listen to the voice of the people.

      Every new story like this and every bit of outrage and criticism keeps that window open.

      The price of liberty . . .

  30. henrydddd

    Yeah

    " or there is evidence of a crime.” As was shown by Hoover, I wonder when, not if, the crime in question is going to be along the order of people speaking against the government of the United States or anything that the government wants

  31. Denarius Silver badge
    Trollface

    the irony again

    for some merkins, the irony will be that the merkin gov has created release 0.8 of their favourite boogyman, AntiChrist, instead of some liberal commie European socialist.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019