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Metadata and the Intrusive State 66

Posted by timothy
from the zum-beispiel dept.
An anonymous reader writes with an excerpt from an intriguing article at TechDirt about the sometimes very low-tech methods of the East German Stasi. They may have been using more pencils than computers, but they were gathering information on their targets using the same kind of metadata whose significance the U.S. government has lately been downplaying: "They amassed dossiers on about one quarter of the population of the country during the Communist regime. But their spycraft — while incredibly invasive — was also technologically primitive by today's standards. While researching my book Dragnet Nation, I obtained the above hand drawn social network graph and other files from the Stasi Archive in Berlin, where German citizens can see files kept about them and media can access some files, with the names of the people who were monitored removed. The graphic shows forty-six connections, linking a target to various people (an 'aunt,' 'Operational Case Jentzsch,' presumably Bernd Jentzsch, an East German poet who defected to the West in 1976), places ('church'), and meetings ('by post, by phone, meeting in Hungary')."
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Metadata and the Intrusive State

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  • by unitron (5733) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @04:09PM (#46441395) Homepage Journal

    Guilt by association was one of their primary tools.

    • It's barely usable over dialup .. I used it for a couple of days at 3K
    • Just in case you didn't notice, metadata, as Pen Registers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pen_register) has been used in the US for decades and it was even ruled Constitutional by the SCOTUS in Smith v Maryland

      Just because _any_ intelligence organization is using a particular method does not mean that _all_ intelligence agencies are like the Stassi

      • and it was even ruled Constitutional by the SCOTUS in Smith v Maryland

        And your point is what? That government thugs vote to give government thugs more power? Big surprise.

      • by sjames (1099)

        And more recently, the "three hops rule" shows that guilt by association is alive and well within our own STASI clone.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @04:09PM (#46441397) Homepage Journal

    While researching my book

    At least it's not another slashvertisement, then.

  • by suso (153703) * on Sunday March 09, 2014 @04:11PM (#46441413) Homepage Journal

    There is a great movie that came out in 2006 called "The Lives of Others" that provides an account of the practices of the Stasi. It may not have been completely accurate, but its nevertheless a good insight into what it was like and a great movie overall.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Assuming we even believe it's just metadata being gathered - what informed citizen actually believes it's a non-concern?

    • by BradMajors (995624) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @04:54PM (#46441605)

      Obama. Obama says we should not be concerned that the NSA is collecting all our metadata.

      • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @05:06PM (#46441635) Journal

        Merry Old England would have rounded up the Founding Fathers using "just metadata" (who called whom, and when) and therefore they would have forbidden its collection to government without a proper warrant.

        The US concept of The People forming a government inherently distrusts those in power, so specifically grants limited powers. It's not a case of "well, WE will use it right!". The power itself is what's wrong.

        • by CRCulver (715279)

          Merry Old England would have rounded up the Founding Fathers using "just metadata" (who called whom, and when) and therefore they would have forbidden its collection to government without a proper warrant.

          That analogy might have swayed people decades ago when Americans all had rosy views of the benevolence of the Founding Fathers, but from the better informed perspective of Americans today, maybe it would have been better had the British authorities been able to nip the Revolution in the bud. The Commonwea

          • America did two great things; Drove out the royals and wrote the Constitution -- a model for real liberty the world over that was adopted and expanded by many other nations. And the other would be; the New Deal where Socialism made America the "Capitalist haven" from 1940 - 1980 that idiots say was entirely the result of the "free market."

            So now you want to bring back the Tories who promoted class privilege? .. well I suppose it was only a matter of time. Can I hear a "whoop whoop" for Toxic waste? Someone

          • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Monday March 10, 2014 @06:28AM (#46444139)

            I think by that logic, you could also argue that the Magna Carta was bad.

            It's quite possible that the more enlightened practices employed on the later colonial separations were influenced by both the example of what could happen when their separation was forbidden and by the model documents that the American revolution brought into being.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Its power without accountability is wrong. The NSA wasn't reporting to anyone or getting court orders to obtain this info.

          Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely!

          • Wrong again, the FISA courts had oversight, just because you didn't have access did not mean that it didn't happen

          • Its power without accountability is wrong.

            The ability to collect the metadata is an abuse in and of itself.

        • I think this completely nails the real agenda with the NSA.

          The status quo abuse by Multinationals to reduce labor costs and resource expenditures requires a guarantee that "we the people" don't get in the way of their agenda.

          The NSA is designed so that "no Founding Fathers" can ever spring up again in the USA.

          I'm waiting for some genetic engineering to make a more complacent America. Likely it won't be all bad -- your "calm genes" will also help you be "Roundup Ready". The poisons that take out trouble-maki

        • Merry Contemporary England still has a system in which the power of the government is theoretically delegated from the Sovereign whose authority is established by divine right.

          The Founding Fathers' descendants still have a system based on the quasi-divine right of the constitution.

          One has GCHQ, the other has the NSA.

          Using only one side of the paper, explain how the "US Concept" to which you refer makes a material difference to "The People".
    • by CRCulver (715279)

      Assuming we even believe it's just metadata being gathered - what informed citizen actually believes it's a non-concern?

      While I don't align with the politics, I occasionally dip into Charles Johnson's blog Little Green Footballs [littlegreenfootballs.com] because in its 12-year history it has had an interesting dramatic arc (highly influential right-wing site in the wake of 9/11, then massively dropping in importance after Johnson turned his back on the right and presumably most of his readers as well). One thing that surprised me i

      • If metadata is so unimportant, why have I been seeing ads for metadata specialists on the job boards lately?

  • They had directed all that human effort towards making a better country for their citizens .. and making better cars ..
    • They had directed all that human effort towards making a better country for their citizens .. and making better cars ..

      They had not much of a choice. Remember, this was a puppet regime, closely controlled and directed by their Soviet Russian masters. In 1953, the GDR was the first of several Soviet-bloc countries to rebel (after that, in 1956 Hungary and in 1968 the Czech Republic went similarly "astray"), so control and supervision was doubled for the next decades. Only under Gorbatchev things lightened up, but by then the (by then really old) old guard was too much set in their ways to relax or reform anything.

      • I took a class on the Soviets once, and a little anecdote about the Eastern Bloc was quite illuminating.

        The Soviet Union actually had three votes in the UN. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all had seats, and all were constituent Soviet Republics. Sometimes the Russians would change their vote at the last minute, and not everybody would get the memo in time. In the first few years of the UN the Bulgarians voted against Russia less often then Ukraine. Kruschev loosened things up a bit, which was one reason the C

        • I took a class on the Soviets once, and a little anecdote about the Eastern Bloc was quite illuminating.

          The Soviet Union actually had three votes in the UN. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all had seats, and all were constituent Soviet Republics. Sometimes the Russians would change their vote at the last minute, and not everybody would get the memo in time. In the first few years of the UN the Bulgarians voted against Russia less often then Ukraine. Kruschev loosened things up a bit, which was one reason the Communist Party fired him.

          The Russians wanted obedient little puppets, which meant they wanted no street demonstrations, which in turn meant that all Eastern Bloc leaders needed something very much like the Stasi or they'd be replaced.

          Street demonstrations were just fine as long as they were approved demonstrations - for example, anti-US rallies. It's where the term "rent-a-crowd" gained parlance.

  • http://www.google.com/dashboar... [google.com] draws a much more accurate depiction of every espect of my life, and it's just one piece of paper away from the government. Today the stasi espions would be unemployed.
  • They also tracked people by smell: http://boingboing.net/2007/07/... [boingboing.net]

    Current German government is doing the same thing: http://www.theguardian.com/bus... [theguardian.com]

  • METADATA has a meaning. It defines the column characteristics and use help text associated. Think as "standing" on a row, in a column, what is the definition of that spot.

    DATA defines the other items on that same "row".

    Someone started to talk about a picture, that date, time and location of that picture is the METADATA. It is not, is the DATA on the same row storing the blob called picture. NSA is using this same misinformation to minimize the from number, to number, start time and duration of the call.

  • invoke Godwin's Law, right on the TFS.
  • Clearly fingerprints shall forevermore be banned as evidence in Court trials. We have a moral duty to free all prisoners convicted by fingerprint evidence. There is clearly no difference between gathering fingerprints to having 3% of the population employed as informers, and sending anyone who questions the great leader to a re-education camp.

    I'm not saying what the NSA does is acceptable, or that it shouldn't be stopped. I am saying that if you seriously think this post will convince anybody to stop the da

    • I'm not saying what the NSA does is acceptable

      Then knock it off. Stop being an NSA apologist and trying to trivialize the issue, which is what your post is obviously trying to do. Seriously, if you're going to say that you're trying to say that what the NSA does is acceptable, you shouldn't go on to try to trivialize the harm the NSA is doing.

      The logic simply doesn't follow.

      The logic does follow. It's essentially that previous corrupt governments used this same type of tactic for wide-scale oppression, and we should therefore be wary of it when our government is using this sort of in

    • Databases are not evil.

      It's what you do with them that makes them evil.

      It's why you don't put wolves in positions as watchdogs over herds of sheep.

    • by sjames (1099)

      There is a difference between gathering fingerprints from crime scenes and convicted felons and gathering them from everywhere and everyone.

      However, there have been suggestions that law enforcement should be forced to discard DNA samples from people who turn out to be innocent (either found not guilty or never prosecuted).

      • If that's the case you're making you don't argue that "OMG! The Stasi! had fingerprints!" you argue "OMG! The Stasi had everyone's fingerprints!" Fingerprints are clearly a useful law enforcement tool, just as having a suspected criminals entire Facebook/google history is a useful law enforcement tool.

        There're basically two ways to fix the NSA problem:

        1) Get Congress to skoosh all mass-data collection initiatives by defunding them.

        2) Get our allies to bitch until they stop.

        1 is a long shot. We can get some

        • by sjames (1099)

          Agreed. I would very much like to see the NSA out of the picture and law enforcement back to getting a warrant in a regular court for particular data upon show of probable cause. Actually getting back to that is a hard problem.

          • Right now my best plan would be to create some new, privacy-protecting entity to hold most of this data. Then the Federal Data Storage Service only talks to the CIA/FBI etc. when there's a specific warrant. The NSA gets totally cut out because they are a Signals Intelligence service, which means that they are only supposed to be involved in collecting data, not using it. This would protect privacy, while still allowing the government to get it's hand on the digital records of people it needs to spy on.

            The F

            • by sjames (1099)

              Really, we need to restore the understanding that if the law forbids something, it forbids paying someone else to do that thing. Murder is illegal, so it is also a crime to hire someone to commit murder. Government prying without a warrant is illegal, so buying the same information from someone else is just as illegal.

              The NSA is not supposed to have any domestic operation at all. If they happen to capture a Citizens call at the foreign endpoint, that's one thing, but no call that stays in the U.S. should ev

              • That's statutory law, which applies to us normal people. It only applies to the government when the government wants it to. In Constitutional law (which does apply to the government) the Fourth Amendment bans unreasonable searches by government agents. The First Amendment allows private citizens to say pretty much anything they want. Thus if I'm a private citizen and I legally obtain a bunch of data on my neighbors, I have a First Amendment right to sell that data. Since the data is (legally speaking) my pr

                • by sjames (1099)

                  Actually, it is a principle of common law and so is a lens the Constitution is to be read through (though our current government seems to consider the Constitution as non-applicable as well).

                  The problem with a more easily amended Constitution is that we would have the same idiots that brought us the Patriot Act amending it.

                  • Which principle of common law are you referring to? Most principles of common law don't actually apply to the government. Sovereign immunity is a bitch. Even for non-governments, just because it's illegal for you to do something doesn't mean it's illegal for you to pay someone else to do that thing. If you don't have a pilot's license you can still pay someone with such a license to fly you places.

                    The Founders solution to the Patriot Act problem would probably have been periodic Constitutional conventions.

                    • by sjames (1099)

                      If you don't have a pilot's license you can still pay someone with such a license to fly you places.

                      The crime is flying a plane without a license. It would be a crime to hire someone to fly a plane without a license. It would not be a crime for you to operate a plane if you did have a license, so it is legal to hire someone with a license to operate a plane.

                      Government can't claim sovereign immunity from the Constitution. That includes constructive violations. There is no such thing as immunity from legal principles, only from laws. Mind you, that doesn't mean that the courts (including the well stacked Su

                    • The US Constitution is not common law. Common Law is only binding on the Federal government to the extent that it supplies the definitions of words, phrases, and legal concepts that are actually explicitly in the Constitution. You "can't say "Common Law principle X restricts ordinary people, therefore it restricts the government." That just isn't the case.

                      The airplane analogy is quite instructive. Just as I am not legally allowed to fly a plane, the government is not legally allowed to create certain massiv

                    • by sjames (1099)

                      No, but I can say that the principles of construction and agency apply. Because it applies to all laws.

                      The Constitution says the government can't gather that information without a warrant. So yeah, if the government can hire someone who already has a warrant that would be fine.

                      It's only a security hole because of sophists in the judiciary bending over backwards to avoid the obvious finding.

                    • Are you sure you're not the one twisting the Constitution? Because it seems to me that you have an idea of what a reasonable Constitution should say, and you're subconsciously reading that into our Constitution. This is what our Constitution has to say about law enforcement's right to gather information:

                      The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

                      That's not a blanket ban on information-gathering. It explicitly allows the government to gather whatever information it wants, as long as the method used to gather that information is not an "unreasonable s

                    • by sjames (1099)

                      The fourth ammendment's meaning is fairly well understood. I am adding nothing to that. I am simply invoking the principles of agency and construction to point out that the government cannot legally bypass the 4th by paying someone else for the information.

                      Is that REALLY so hard to understand?

                    • I understand your argument perfectly. You think that if the Fourth bans massive, intrusive, law-enforcement databases in government hands then (under several common law principles) it bans the government from using those in private hands.

                      The problems with your argument are two-fold. First the databases are not explicitly banned. What's explicitly banned is government agents doing the search to find the information that can be put into the database. You can argue this means they are implicitly banned, but go

  • Here's a simple walkthrough of how easy social graph analysis is which demonstrates how invasive metadata is. [kieranhealy.org]

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