While the announcement that the NSA collected records of "every call placed on the Verizon communications network (and, it appears, every other U.S. phone carrier)", Foreign Policy explains how this "grave violation of privacy" keeps American citizens "safe from terrorism."
We start with a classic scenario. U.S. intelligence officials have captured an al Qaeda operative and obtained the phone number of an al Qaeda fundraiser in Yemen.
You are an analyst for a fictionalized version of the NSA, and you have been authorized to search through metadata in order to expose the fundraiser's network, armed with only a single phone number as a starting point.
The first step is refreshingly simple: You type the fundraiser's phone number into the metadata analysis software and click OK.
In our example data, the result is a list of 79 phone numbers that were involved in an incoming or outgoing call with the fundraiser's phone within the last 30 days. The fundraiser is a covert operator and this phone is dedicated to covert activities, so almost anyone who calls the number is a high-value target right out of the gate.
Using the metadata, we can weight each phone number according to the number of calls it was involved in, the lengths of the calls, the location of the other participant, and the time of day the call was placed. Your NSA training manual claims these qualities help indicate the threat level of each participant. Your workstation renders these data as a graph. Each dot represents a phone number, and the size of the dot is bigger when the number scores higher on the "threat" calculus.
|Miniature Mail Server With Privacy at its Core|
|"Assigning all of China’s people a social credit rating that weighs up and scores every aspect of their behavior."|
|UK Government Orders 'The Guardian' to Destroy Hard Drives Containing #Snowden Revelations|
|"Being anonymous in public might be a thing of the past."|
|Surveiling the Politically Active of 2030|
|“When automation starts displacing lawyers, accountants and bankers, then we might see some push-back.”|
|“A photograph of the last male northern white rhinoceros.”|
|“Astronomers have sent a radio message to a neighbouring star system.”|
|“Governments around the world are dramatically increasing their efforts to manipulate information on social media.”|
|How to Avoid Jury Duty|
|CaptchaTweet: Write Tweets in Captcha Form|
|“A fraudster poses as an attractive woman and encourages a man to masturbate in front of a webcam.”|
|“Semis, not personal cars, are the smartest use of autonomous technology.”|
|Japanese Robot Serves Ice Cream From Inside a Vending Machine|
|“Facebook has contributed to, and profited from, the erosion of democratic norms in the United States.”|
|Short Story of Similar Objects|
|“The homemade airplane does indeed fly!”|