You are being tracked. Besides comprehensive government spying, there are hundreds of data brokers compiling and selling information about you: Phone records, texts, phone location, computer location, web history, social networking use, background checks, credit history and now even entrance to some retail stores, with facial recognition linking you to your online data.
Julia Angwin, a reporter for ProPublica who was on a Pulitzer-winning team at the Wall Street Journal, spent a year trying to find out if a reasonably consumer tech-savvy person could circumvent the information-collecting dragnets while keeping her friends and her sanity.
Angwin spoke with me about her successes and failures, the FBI tracking Reddit jokers, visiting the Stasi archives in Berlin, how to leak stuff, how to utilize child password labor, the values of a personal Faraday cage, and whether or not a healthy market for privacy could ever exist.
OK, why don't we just start off with talking about some of people you interviewed for the book. Mostly I'm interested in: What's the sort of person that's being tracked by the government.
What type of person is being tracked by the government? As we've learned from Snowden, everybody is being tracked by the government.
We now know that every single person’s call records are being swept into these dragnets that the government has. We have also seen many other instances of indiscriminate mass surveillance: the automatic license plate readers that the government is using, there's all the facial recognition with cameras and, increasingly, drones!
That's why I called my book Dragnet Nation, because there are so many dragnets. It used to be you could say the kind of people the government tracks are suspects. Now they're basically tracking everyone, because they have technology that allows them to.
Say I'm a Muslim writing something on Reddit. What are my chances of that being picked by and pursued by the FBI?
Yeah. I don’t know what the chances are, but certainly in my book I tell a story about two young Muslim men living in California. One of them wrote a kind of snarky thing on Reddit, basically making fun of the TSA's screening procedures. There was a long discussion on the board about taking away your deodorant, and the checkpoints, so this guy wrote something saying, Well it's silly, because I could just go bomb a mall, and nobody's checking anything there. I could walk in with a trenchcoat and a duffel bag and bomb it.
So, a couple weeks later, he and his best friend were getting his friend's car oil changed. The car went up on a hoist, they looked underneath their car and saw this weird thing hanging off of it, and in fact the FBI had installed a GPS tracker on their car, and had been following them around.