Why metadata is so valuable to the government:
Big Brother is Big --------------- 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 the connectors.
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. —From Riseup.net newsletter