Australian Reporter Makes A Year's Worth Of His Metadata Available For Public To Rummage Through

from the brave-man dept

One of the key realizations over the last few years, especially post-Snowden, is that there is no such thing as "just metadata". Collecting metadata is not only as bad as collecting content, it is arguably worse. Whereas content must be parsed and understood -- something that is still quite hard to do well in an automated fashion -- metadata by definition is already classified and tagged. That makes it very easy to combine with other information, and in a way that scales, to reveal extremely intimate details about the person it refers to.

Techdirt has already run a couple of stories that demonstrate this. Back in 2011, the German politician Malte Spitz obtained his own phone location data, and cross-referenced it with his Twitter feeds, blog entries and other digital information to give a remarkably full picture of his daily life. More recently, Ton Siedsma went even further, allowing researchers to analyze all of the metadata generated by his phone -- with a predictably detailed picture of Siedsma emerging as a result.

Now a brave reporter from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Will Ockenden, has requested and made available a year's worth of his outgoing call and SMS records, and six months of his data sessions on a Web page:

All in all, this simple data request returned 13,000 individual records. There were 1,500 outgoing phone calls and SMSes but the vast majority -- 11,200 records -- were data sessions, complete with the time and date his phone connected to the mobile network and which cell tower it connected to.

In other words, by carrying a smartphone Will was in effect carrying a tracking device that logged roughly where he was every 20 minutes of every day, on average.

Government departments, police and security agencies have access to all the data Will received about himself -- and more -- without the need for a warrant.
As the article points out, this exercise has a special relevance for Australians because of a new data retention law that has been brought in this year. Like many other leaders doing the same, the Australian Prime Minister tried to soothe people's fears about this manifest intrusion into their private lives using the standard "it's just metadata" argument:
"We're talking here about metadata; we're not talking here about the content of communications," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in February. "It's just the data that the system generates."
What's particularly valuable about this latest provision of real-life metadata is that the public can explore for themselves how much it reveals, by playing with the interactive tools provided on the site:
Over the coming days we're going to use these tools to delve deeper into Will's data and report back on what we discover.

We'll be writing about what we can infer about Will, as well as how police and other agencies might use data like this.

But we want your help. We're releasing these exploratory tools so you can tell us what you're able to find out about Will. You can also get the complete dataset to explore yourself.
This is a great way to get across to people that there is no such thing as "just metadata". Let's hope it encourages Australians to start questioning the huge data grabs of highly personal information being carried out by their government, along with its bogus assurances on privacy.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: australia, data retention, metadata, privacy, revealed, will ockenden


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 12:34am

    Fair is fair, I'll release my metadata as well

    Let me just find the password for the NSA servers, I know I have it here somewhere....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      LduN (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 7:13am

      Re: Fair is fair, I'll release my metadata as well

      If their security config follows what seems to be the standard you can try "password" without quotes. Or worst case just have a looksie at the whiteboards/post-its laying around... no doubt one of the "security experts" has trouble with remember the password and needs to write it down often.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 1:31am

    The rest of the story

    Australian reporter makes a year's worth of his metadata available for public to rummage through.
    Is extradited to the US as a 'terrorist' for exposing the secrets of how private citizens' privacy is breached. ;(

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Seegras (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 2:08am

    Another one

    A member of the Swiss national council (the parliament), Balthasar Gl├Ąttli of the green party, also did this:

    https://apps.opendatacity.de/vds/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mr Big Content, 18 Aug 2015 @ 2:48am

    I dont See What The Big Deal Is About Metadata

    Im like a Cyber Will Rogers. I never metadata I didnt like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 2:50am

    if 'metadata wasn't any use, the government and security forces wouldn't want it, would they? the fact that they do and that they have tried their damnedest to put across to the public that it isn't of any real use, should scare the fuck out of people!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 10:35am

    Enterprising Ozzies should also post whatever they find out for the rest of the world.

    #justmetadata

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    CharlieBrown, 18 Aug 2015 @ 3:01pm

    To Quote Myself

    To the government: If it is considered none of your business what I do off line, whether it be go to the bank, read a book or look at pornography, then why is it suddenly your business when I do these same things on line?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 11:18pm

    Interesting. I still think German politician Malte Spitz's metadata visualization is the best. With his, all you have to do is click the play button and watch as his location moves around Google Maps in real-time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Aug 2015 @ 12:44pm

    What will really drive the point home...

    ...Is if Okenden or one of the other meta-public figures ends up on the recieving end ofma criminal indictment due to inferred discoveries.

    I'm curious if the Austrailian publick will then mobilize to preserve their metadata privacy or will blow Okenden off because he's a criminal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.