Last month it was revealed that the National Security Agency had been logging telephone calls since 9/11. This month, the right to privacy debate is set to ignite even further after a report in the New Scientist claims that the NSA is funding research into the harvesting of personal information from social networks such as MySpace.

This might not sound like such a big deal, until you step back and realize quite how much personal information gets posted on social networking services: who you know, what blogs you read, your political allegiances, sexual preferences and more. Things heat up when the social networking data is added to such things as financial transactions, physical movements (cellphone base stations make great tracking systems) and that phone tapping information. But that’s just the start of it; if the semantic web proposals for a common Resource Description Framework (RDF) data structure become a reality then the NSA could potentially monitor your entire online life. The whole point of RDF is to bring an unambiguous commonality to online data, making it a machine as well as people friendly place.

New Scientist quote a paper (Semantic Analytics on Social Networks) presented at the recent WWW2006 conference in Scotland, part funded by the Advanced Research and Development Activity, and showing how data from social networks and other databases can be used together to reveal personal detail. ARDA have since changed their name to the Disruptive Technology Office (DTO) but whatever the name, the role remains the same: to research critical problems facing the US intelligence community, using NSA funds. If this reminds you of the ill fated Total Information Awareness (TIA) initiative, another Pentagon program designed to track and analyze online data trails post 9/11, you are not alone. Me as well. Let’s hope the similarities don’t end with the automated intelligence profiling aspects. The TIA program was suspended in 2002 after a high profile campaign by privacy groups.

Of course nobody, and certainly not I, would argue that intelligence gathering isn’t a requirement in the fight against global terrorism. However, there’s a world of difference between focused, targeted and legal data profiling and this kind of one size fits all invasion of privacy. Between the dangers of phishing expeditions by ID thieves and fishing expeditions by The Powers That Be, perhaps it’s time we all started taking online privacy a whole lot more seriously.

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I've read a lot of good ones since you've been writing, but I really like this one.

perhaps it’s time we all started taking online privacy a whole lot more seriously.

Can't agree with ya more. And ya, I agree with Comatose. One of the better articles in a while (not that the other ones were bad.)

By the way, do ya kno of any other sites this guy posts at?


At the moment my blogging is exclusive to DaniWeb, although I will be doing a UK buisness-2-business focussed blog in a month or two.

However, you can find my writing elsewhere online at PC Pro (, PC Plus ( and Microscope ( Just search on my name for various features, opinion columns, reviews etc.


The NSA would be foolish not to use the internet to gather data on people they're keeping an eye on.
After all, those people also use the internet themselves for intel gathering and communications purposes...

And oh, they're not listening in on all your phonecalls. It's no more or less than what the IRS gets already during tax audits on your telco, the information about when calls were made from which to what number and how long they lasted.

It's the potential for combining this data with other data, including phone tap stuff and financial transaction data, that worries me. As does defining 'who they keep an eye on' especially when it might be me, or you. We live in dangerous times, no doubt, but the 'war on terror' card is being played just a tad too much for my liking. Making the planet a safer place to live in is a fine thing, unless you fall outside of what TPTB define as a suitable inhabitant of this brave new world. Without people questioning what is happening, and doing so in a timely fashion, civil liberties have a strange habit of being slowly eroded...

All in my never humble opinion, of course.

As an aside, I had lunch today with a former Chief Information Officer for the Executive Office of the President, the White House. Same chap previously served 6 years as a senior executive with the FBI. I'm still trying to figure out what he told me and what I can repeat ;)

Just because they're investigating the possibillities of doing something according to some pop-science mag which sells on juicy headlines (yes, I know that mag) doesn't mean they're actually doing it (in fact if they're investigating the possibillities it automatically means they're not doing it...).

That CFO most likely will not have told you anything you didn't have a right to know and as you have (AFAIK) no security clearance he'll certainly have told you nothing you are expected to keep confidential.

It isn't a matter of expecting to keep stuff confidential, I am always more concerned with the possibility of mis-information that is expected to be anything but confidential.

My security clearance is high enough for me to be able to travel with children on school outings. I have a certificate and everything... :cheesy:

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