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Big Brother is Big
Metadata, i.e. all the information about who you communicate with, how frequently, for how long, and from where, can be used to create a social map.
Maybe you heard about the tiny story in the media that the U.S. government
has been collecting everyone's phone, email, chat, and social media
information worldwide? Ugh, but also yay to the daylight shining on these
massive spying programs. And remember, just because we don't know about
other government's programs, doesn't mean they don't exist. Here at Riseup
headquarters we have long lectured you all about how data you give to
corporations should be considered data you are also giving to your
government/the US government. We assume you annoy all your friends about
this frequently. Now that you don't have to anymore, here's something new
you can lecture them about: why metadata matters.
Metadata, i.e. all the information about who you communicate with, how
frequently, for how long, and from where, can be used to create a social
map. One way this social map can be used to determine who the bridge
people are within social movements and campaigns, i.e., which people are
Say that there is some really excellent, effective anti-coal organizing
going on -- effective enough that the powers that be want to stop it.
Using the metadata to make a social map shows them who the handful of
people are that connect the green anarchists with the labor activists and
the climate change organizers. Even in really large campaigns, there are
often only a handful of people who are the connectors, and without them
communication, coalition, coordination, and solidarity will break down.
It's not that it might break down, but it will. Corporations and
governments even know how many of these bridge people they need to take
out in order to disrupt a campaign. There are algorithms and academic
papers written about it. What they haven't always known is who the heck
these bridge people are.
Enter the metadata's social map, and they can easily and to an exacting
degree see who the bridge people are they need to target. Who to follow
and intimidate to stop their organizing. Who to have watched and legally
prosecuted via any small legal infraction. Who to illegally entrap. Who to
kidnap, torture, and kill. And let's not be naive and imagine that hasn't
happened before and will not happen again. The collection of this metadata
makes it all the easier.
Sound paranoid? Or are we at a point where nothing sounds paranoid anymore.
So, what can we do about it? For starters, get everyone you know to start
using an email provider that uses StartTLS. For email, this is the only
thing that can protect against the surveillance of our social networks.
What about phone calls, internet chat, and social networking sites? Riseup
birds don't have all the answers, but we are working on it. One thing we
know, privacy and security are not solved by personal solutions. If we
want security, it will take a collective response and a collective
commitment to building alternative communication infrastructure.
Note: Our horizontal, anarchist sensibilities want to add that we don't
think bridge-people are the most important people in activism, since we
are awfully fond of thinking that there are many crucial niches within any
movement's ecosystem that are equally important. But bridge people are
necessary, as is the work that you, and you, and you, bring to the table.