New Scientist 11.16.2012
Every move we make online leaves a trace. This is a lesson former CIA director David Petraeus and his lover, Paula Broadwell, learned in dramatic fashion a few weeks ago after an FBI investigation – begun in response to an unrelated complaint – found email records of their illicit affair.
Google has reported ongoing increases in government requests for protected data, thousands of them, most of these requests being honored.
Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo and a host of similar sites all store huge amounts of our personal data. In the US, where many of the biggest internet firms are based, such data are protected under the Stored Communications Act. Law enforcement agencies require a search warrant to gain access to personal online content, just as they would if they wanted to search your home.
In the Petraeus saga, though, the country's top intelligence officer was betrayed by metadata, seemingly anonymous recordings that internet companies make of when and where someone logged into an email account, a facebook profile or the like. While the FBI was monitoring an email account that was reportedly the source of some harassing emails, it found a series of IP addresses recorded when a user logged in from hotel WiFi networks. By cross-referencing those logins with hotel guest lists, the agency ascertained that Broadwell was the only one who could have logged in.
I have little clue about computer security stuff outside of anti-virus and keeping my thing safe, so I can't really comment much about this level of tracing people's digital footsteps.
I post this just to bring it to your attention, and to ask for a little feedback from those knowledgeable about this stuff; observations or fleshing out the concepts.
The problem with trying to use any internet service anonymously, says Chris Soghoian, a privacy technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, is that once an email address can be tied to where it was accessed – whether a coffee shop, hotel or an internet café – investigators can then hunt for, say, credit card transactions or signals from a cellphone tower to place you there at that time and reveal your identity.
It doesn't seem like we could do much more to help ourselves be spied upon, does it?
Stay out of trouble, ya hear?