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The NSA Maps Your Brain

This story on NSA surveillance of Americans, by Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian, contains a quote from Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute:

    “The calls you make can reveal a lot, but now that so much of our lives are mediated by the internet, your IP logs are really a real-time map of your brain: what are you reading about, what are you curious about, what personal ad are you responding to (with a dedicated email linked to that specific ad), what online discussions are you participating in, and how often?
    “Seeing your IP logs – and especially feeding them through sophisticated analytic tools – is a way of getting inside your head that’s in many ways on par with reading your diary.”

Also see this story from Business Insider, “The NSA Has Processed 1 Trillion Pieces of Internet Metadata,” which provides background on a program called ThinThread, authored around the year 2000 by top NSA analyst (and later whistleblower) William Binney. To Binney’s regret, ThinThread ended up providing the core functionality for the massive unauthorized data collection of the Bush years. (The Business Insider article, and this one, also include many useful links you may follow for further information.)

For a more in-depth discussion of ThinThread, William Binney, and fellow whistleblower Thomas Drake, see this May 2011 New Yorker article by Jane Meyer. Despite the recent publicity given to the NSA’s data collection by the revelations of Edward Snowden, much of this information has been circulating in the public domain for years!

Personally I think it’s exciting, not frightening at all, that the NSA is able to know anything about anyone, anywhere in the world, in real time. In fact, I think they should add face recognition technology from surveillance cameras, GPS data from cars and cell phones, medical records, electronic purchase and ATM records, and so on to the data they already have — though I doubt they’ve been waiting for my advice on this. I have only two provisos: 1) the data collection system itself should be completely visible to the public; and 2) the information it collects on individuals should be freely available to everyone, so we can all track each other in real time! We’re already living in a world where secrets and privacy are no longer possible — or necessary, or even useful — so let’s just make that transparency complete and put all data on everyone in the public domain. In this sense, the NSA is doing us all a public service, in building the tools for us to do this. We just need to liberate them from the control of the spymasters!


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