Friday, June 09, 2006

How to Sabotage the NSA's Plan to Mine Personal Info on the Web

Last month it was reported that the NSA is building a database of every phone call made in the US, the purpose being to analyze the social networks of millions of Americans.

Phone records, however, can only yield so much information—a fact not lost on the NSA. Therefore, the NSA is turning its attention to a richer source of information. According to New Scientist, the NSA has begun research into the mass harvesting of personal information on social networking websites such as MySpace. (LINK)

The advantages are many. For one thing, the information is public, having been voluntarily posted by the users of these websites. Therefore, mining the information raises no troublesome questions about the Fourth Amendment, probable cause, and so forth; it is free for the taking. Also, social networks do not have to be inferred from phone logs; people list their social networks--their circles of friends, both immediate and extended--right on the websites. That’s what they're for; that's why they call them social networking websites.

Even better, people also list personal details on these websites: favorite books, movies, and music, recreational activities, political views, and so forth. And a great many don’t stop there; they also describe in rich detail their sexual activities, their drinking habits, their drug habits, how much grass they smoke, etc.—all sorts of information which, combined with other information (financial transactions, for instance, or cell phone records), could be used to build a very accurate personality profile, useful for all sorts of purposes.

It is Big Brother’s wet dream come true, perfect for a total surveillance society. In fact, it is so perfect you would almost think these websites were set up by the NSA for that very purpose, to lure the unsuspecting into a carefully-set trap.

Well, that may or may not be true; it cannot be proven, although the fact that Rupert Murdoch owns MySpace should certainly give us cause to wonder. What is certain, however, is that the NSA fully intends to mine the Web for personal information.

So what do we do? Do we let paranoia get the better of us and stop posting our personal information, political views, etc.? Should we cancel our MySpace accounts, shut down our blogs, and run in fear from our own computers? Hell no. We should never let the government scare us away from the Internet, or intimidate us into silence, especially with regard to political views. Rather, we should raise our voices louder. The whole point is to make sure the criminals in government hear us, so that they will be the ones who are intimidated.

However, a certain caution about what we post on the Web should be exercised. For instance, don’t tell the whole world which drugs you use, how much you use, where you use them, who you use them with, etc. Don’t make anything public that could be used to compromise you, or set you up. Always remember that Big Brother is reading.

And here’s something else you can do. If you have a MySpace account, throw in a few personal details that are untrue. Mix them up with the true details in such a way that it renders your NSA personality profile highly unreliable, if not totally useless. It is a tried-and-true tactic used by the intelligence community itself. It’s called spreading disinformation. The intelligence agencies have been using it to confuse each other for years. And they've been using it on us, too; now let’s use it on them.