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Privacy Government

Helping the FBI Track You 193

Hasan M. Elahi writes in the NY Times about his run-in with the FBI several months after September 11th, 2001. They'd received an erroneous report that he had explosives and had fled the country, so they were surprised when he showed up at an airport and was flagged by watch-list software. Elahi chose not to fight the investigation, and provided the FBI with enough detail about his life to convince them that he was a lawful citizen. But then, he kept going, providing more and more information about his life, documenting his every move and making it available online. His experience has been that providing too much information affords almost the same privacy blanket as too little. Quoting: "On my Web site, I compiled various databases that show the airports I’ve been in, food I’ve eaten at home, food I’ve eaten on the road, random hotel beds I’ve slept in, various parking lots off Interstate 80 that I parked in, empty train stations I saw, as well as very specific information like photos of the tacos I ate in Mexico City between July 5 and 7, and the toilets I used. ... A lot of work is required to thread together the thousands of available points of information. By putting everything about me out there, I am simultaneously telling everything and nothing about my life. Despite the barrage of information about me that is publicly available, I live a surprisingly private and anonymous life."
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Helping the FBI Track You

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  • Re:Idiot. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by unrtst ( 777550 ) on Sunday October 30, 2011 @12:21PM (#37886580)

    I wanted to mod this up, cause I agree, but there's one point I haven't seen mentioned here or in most of the posts below (that I've read so far)...

    If you do provide false information, and they (FBI) ask if it this little log of yours is true and you say "yes", then you can be held for lying to a federal officer (and/or obstruction of justice, etc). All they have to do is find one little line that isn't accurate... and that would probably be trivial. Then, even if your alibi is honest and someone is setting you up, you've just discounted your entire source of "facts" as inadmissible. They don't even need to find a lie to hint at the consequences - "You know... lying to a federal officer is a crime."

    True story, I was questioned in relation to an FBI investigation many years ago (I worked at an ISP that had been "hacked" and claimed enormous damages and got the FBI involved). The night of the incident, I was drunk (along with most of my coworkers to boot). I was cooperating, but they found one of the things I said to be in conflict with something someone else said. They called us both in and had the company legal people there too, and he laid out the statements and then said that lying to a federal officer can get you N years in jail, etc etc.

    I had told the truth, but with threats like that, I didn't want to talk to them at all anymore. We both fell back on "hey, I already told you I was very very drunk, and this is how I remember it." Nothing happened to us (except that we were soon fired without cause by an overly paranoid always-have-4-sources-of-white-noise-in-his-office owner), but a few people I knew had all their computers confiscated (included blank media, tv's, monitors, keyboards, etc), and they were completely innocent.

    They even brought up the drunk thing, I assume trying to make me slip up... I had told them I drove back to the office as soon as I heard about the incident (as did everyone else). He's like, "So if you were supposedly very drunk, how did you drive back to the office?". I just shrugged and told "yep, both those things happened". He was nice enough not to use that as an admission of guilt and hand it over to the local policy to charge me with drunk driving, but he allowed the threat of that to hang in the air, so to speak.

    Anyway, point being, whatever info you provide will likely be used against you, even if it's just as a threat to try to get more out of you. And you don't have to be guilty of what they're looking for to end up with some significant negative consequences.

    FWIW, I wouldn't change a single thing I did. Getting fired from there was one of the best things that ever could have happened to me in the long run.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.