I run the Campaign for Digital Fourth Amendment Rights out of an incubator in Cambridge, Mass. Many startups at the incubator base their innovative products around “big data”, and the concept attracts substantial academic attention locally as well.
It’s natural that law enforcement would be interested in employing the same techniques, accessing information that people put on the Internet and on their devices about themselves, their location and their habits. Massachusetts-based Raytheon, the world’s fifth-largest defense contractor, has developed a product for law enforcement called “Riot”. Riot acts as a search engine, gathering information about people from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other places. Raytheon refers to Riot as “extreme-scale analytics”, possibly because “wicked awesome analytics” was already trademarked. The Guardian has found a video from inside Raytheon demonstrating the software’s capabilities.
Applications like this are only going to get more common, so be prepared.
If you’re an activist and don’t want your movements to be tracked, but you’re using Foursquare regularly to check in at your favorite places, stop.
If you’re meeting someone and you don’t want that information public, don’t upload a photo of it.
If you’re putting together a demonstration, and don’t want the government to know exactly who came to it, don’t organize it on Facebook.
If you don’t want the government reading your activism-related emails, encrypt them and get your fellow activists to encrypt too.
If you don’t want your web-browsing to be tracked, use Tor.
If you don’t want your cellphone calls to be tracked, get a prepaid phone and change it regularly.
The tools are out there, so use them.
My own data security practices as an activist are very lax. I use Chrome, not Tor. My smartphone might as well be welded to my body. I’ve never sent an encrypted email in my life. Anyone even slightly motivated to find things out about me, could find things out very easily, not least because I have a nearly-unique last name. I’ve made my peace with that. But what’s reasonable for me, isn’t reasonable for people who would suffer meaningful and adverse consequences if their data trail became public knowledge.