A Web of Collaborators

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Pardon the Latin. After a few burgers, beer and coleslaw, we began to see the world clearly yesterday. Today, we’re still at it, asking a very old, as yet unanswered question: Who, precisely, watches the watchers?

Enter the MIT Web app project called “Immersion: A People-Centric View of Your Email Life.”

You enter your email address into it and it will show you your email’s “metadata” as seen by the NSA. And it shows who you “collaborate” with. For entertainment purposes, we decided to spy on ourselves. Here, take a look:

The bigger the circle… the more communication between you and the known collaborator. The wider the connecting bar… the more often there is communication between shared contacts.

For reference, Addison Wiggin, as you may know, is our founder. Greg Kadajski, you may also be aware, is The Daily Reckoning’s managing editor. Joseph Schriefer is our publisher. Kate and Katie help get the day’s issue from our computers to yours… (Martin and Patrice are dad and mom, and Camila, over in the green circle, is my girlfriend. Sorry to drag you into this, Cami.)

Harmless enough, right? Sure, all in a day’s work. But here’s the rub. Each person here has their own Web, and their Web’s Webs have Webs. Until the map of collaborators looks something like this…

There’s bound to be at least one malcontent in that knotty mess. And that’s the tangled beauty of “metadata mining.” We’re all suspects now — the NSA only has to cast a wide enough net.

“Patrick Henry,” Bill Bonner observed earlier in the week, “could have crossed the Blue Ridge west of Charlottesville and never seen another government agent again.” Today, you don’t have that option.

And while your Web of collaborators is being tracked by the NSA, your financial transactions are being collected by an agency even more opaque than the NSA — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

“Bureau researchers are assembling data from across the financial landscape,” Bloomberg confirms:

“Credit card information from nine banks will be stored and analyzed by Argus Information & Advisory Services LLC, a White Plains, N.Y.-based consultancy that won a $15 million contract for the work, procurement documents show.

“As part of a separate industrywide review, banks are being ordered to provide records of credit card add-on products, including credit monitoring and debt cancellation, according to two people briefed on the matter. And last year, the bureau persuaded banks to submit data on checking account overdrafts.”

In addition, the CFPB is buying additional records like payday loans and mortgage information from outside companies.

Of course, the bureau’s director, Richard Cordray, says you have nothing to worry about. “The notion that we’re tracking individual consumers or invading their privacy is wrong,” he told the Senate Banking Committee in April. What else is he going to say?

If the Snowden incident has shown the NSA to be even more secretive than popular imagination had formerly allowed… the CFPB might be even worse.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created under the auspices of the now infamous Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in 2010. It is funded by the Federal Reserve, not Congress. The president appoints the CFPB director for five-year terms, though he could stay there indefinitely. It’s nearly impossible for Congress to remove him because of policy decisions.

In other words, the bureau is a secret, shrouded in opaqueness and wrapped in unaccountability. “Lies are more valuable, to them, than the truth,” Bill Bonner suggests in today’s essay below. And with that, we come full circle from the Idea of America, with which we kicked off the week.



Peter Coyne
for The Daily Reckoning

P.S. According to a recent TED talk by Daniel Suarez, there exist software programs already that can identify the “big” circle in any social ring like we showed you above and then target it for removal with automated drone strike. (Heh. Better watch out, Addison.)

For what it’s worth, there are specific steps you can take to “make your circle smaller.” Tuesday, the Laissez Faire Club released a new, free report called Make Yourself Invisible to the NSA that outlines all the measures you can take to restore privacy in your life. If you’re interested in reviewing a copy, click here.