One Woman’s Data Trail Diary

article below courtesy of The New York Times:

One Woman’s Data Trail Diary


As part of The Agenda, The Times’s look at major issues facing the next administration, we have been examining the trade-offs, more than a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, between security and privacy and civil liberties. Some readers have written in about the electronic data trail that all of us leave as we go about our lives, using the Internet and carrying smartphones.

Heidi Boghosian, a New Yorker and author of a book on surveillance scheduled for publication next year, “Spying on Democracy: A Short History of Government/Corporate Collusion in the Technology Age,” agreed to try to document her own data trail on one recent day. Her account, below, is nothing extraordinary – and that’s the point. It is impossible to live in urban, wired America without leaving clues about ourselves, our movements and our views everywhere. And it is all but impossible to be certain who is looking at the resulting data or video and how much of it is accessible to federal, state or local government.

Ms. Boghosian is executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, a group of self-described radical lawyers and law students founded in 1937, and between her day job and her book research, she thinks far more than most people about surveillance and privacy. But the exercise of documenting her day was nonetheless informative, she said.

“Definitely, for me, going through the process reinforced my sense of the role corporations play in our daily lives,” she said. “And I don’t think most people realize the extent to which corporations cooperate in turning over personal information to the government.”

Here is the record she made:

A Day of Surveillance:

(1) 8:30 a.m.: Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in hallway permits private landlord to monitor departure of tenant from apartment building at 173 Avenue A, New York, N.Y. A sign is posted alerting tenants that their actions are being monitored.

(2) City-owned video surveillance camera, mounted atop a streetlight pole, records pedestrian and vehicular traffic on corner of Avenue A and 11th Street.

(3) 9:45 a.m.: Internet Protocol-based, closed-circuit television CCTV/video surveillance camera at Chase Bank A.T.M. on Second Avenue and 10th Street records clear image of person withdrawing money. I.P. video surveillance footage probably transmitted to a central monitoring room and digitally stored (allowing for advanced search techniques), or viewed over the Internet. Intelligent I.P. cameras with video analytics such as motion sensors, facial recognition and behavioral recognition are used to identify abnormal activity in and around banking locations.

(4) 10 a.m.: Customer Loyalty Card at East Village coffee shop Café Pick Me Up, Avenue A and 9th Street, likely allow the business to track and predict customer spending habits.

(5) 10:30 a.m.: iPhone (with G.P.S. tracking) in owner’s back pocket allows phone owner’s movement and location to be tracked (by government, if cellphone provider gives access) through day and evening, even if phone is turned off, as phone owner walks to Astor Place subway stop.

(6) 10:45 a.m.: Passed by “smart sign” (digital billboard with cameras that gauges demographics of passers-by) that delivers ads tailored to the demographics of the passer-by.

(7) 10:45 a.m.: CCTV in NY subway system monitor boarding #6 subway line to work.

(8) 11:11 a.m.: CCTV in elevator records ride to ninth-floor office in office building. Building security guard has four cameras behind front desk showing elevator, stairways and hallways.

(9) 11:20 a.m.: Facebook software tracks user activities on sites on Internet after logging in and reading a few comments. “Tag Suggestions” feature employs facial recognition technology and suggests name tags after uploading photos.

(10) 11:30 a.m.: Cookies on Internet monitor all Internet searches throughout day on range of subjects; ads appear on screen related to items purchased on line (athletic shoes, face cream).

(11) 1 p.m.: Credit card at Macy’s Department store, used for quick purchase, has embedded RFID (Radio Frequency ID) chip, tracking consumer spending habits and providing that information to big business.

(12) 1:15 p.m.: Shoes in Macy’s new shoe store all have RFID chips (unique identifier linked to database) in them.

(13) 1:30 p.m. Downloaded iTunes onto iPhone. Online music providers may share personal information with third parties.

(14) 2 p.m.: Video cameras and motion detectors in local supermarket track physical movements of customers (allegedly to aim for improved customer service) as customer drops in to pick up some fruit for lunch.

(15) 2:30 p.m.: Social security number and driver’s license information, required by Fulton Street Verizon cellular store winds up in Verizon’s digital database, as customer switches from AT&T. Allegedly needed Social Security number to conduct credit check even though customer has had a landline account with Verizon for many years.

(16) 3:30 p.m.: I.P. address may have been included on a bar code on a digital coupon while registering for at to get a discount hotel deal.

(17) 4 p.m.: Continuous, systematic desktop monitoring surveillance of personal use of business computer to access site to order shoes could have been conducted had employer installed software to monitor my real time actions, purportedly to avoid discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits that may result from inappropriate e-mails sent within company.

(18) 6 p.m.: Dropped by anti-fracking protest on West 14th Street. Unmarked police van with tinted windows probably had NYPD Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) personnel recording protest activities, especially because several Occupy protesters were present. TARU provides investigative technical equipment and tactical support to all N.Y.P.D. bureaus and also provides assistance to other city, state and federal agencies. The unit employs several forms of computer forensics.

(19) 7:30 p.m.: CCTV cameras inside East Village restaurant while meeting friend for dinner after the protest.

(20) 9:30 p.m.: Surveillance cameras on several buildings passed on way home is captured on tape.

(21) 10 p.m.: Final check of Gmail, and a few Google searches, allow Google to collect even more data on consumer habits and personal interests.

Facebook: Overvalued from the Beginning (UBS acting foolish in pointing fingers)


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Dear UBS,

I hate to say I told you so (and you should have read my blog), but Facebook was overvalued from the beginning.  It didn’t have an adequate long-term way to generate revenue; Mark Zuckerberg held too much power; users were moving to mobile devices with no adequate way of capturing ads; its initial share price was overvalued.

And now you want to blame Nasdaq because you bought too many shares? I’m sorry: I have never taken an Economics class in my life, and I knew initial IPO was on the road to a gigantic failure.  I’m sorry that there were technical glitches, but isn’t part of your portfolio training for “risk management”?  And don’t you have to take into consideration risks?   Read the paper. Try harder.  Don’t blame others for your mistakes.  Don’t go along with the herd.  Advise your clients better.  Be an adult, not a child.  Take responsibility for your mistakes.  Acts have consequences.

The Swiss banking giant, in its earnings release on Tuesday, accused Nasdaq of “gross mishandling” of Facebook’s May 18 listing. It said it would begin legal proceedings to recoup all of its losses related to the problems, totaling $356 million. The figure dwarfs the $62 million Nasdaq has set aside to cover losses for brokers and investors due to its mishaps with Facebook’s deal.

via UBS: Facebook IPO Cost Us $350 Million –

Dora Marsden and the Order of Things

Dora Marsden–writer, intellectual, editor, feminist, publisher–had a thing or two to say about the order of things, mainly that it order is always subjective.  What is interesting about Marsden as opposed to, say Foucault, is that she consistently insists that “order” is always one person’s view of order, and not an order imposed from above, while nevertheless acknowledging the systemic effects of state, law, power, and authority:

The issue of course turns upon the point as to whether in Anarchism, which is a negative term, one’s attention fixes upon the absence of a State establishment, that is the absence of one particular view of order supported by armed force with acquiescence as to its continued supremacy held by allowing to it a favoured position as to defence, in teh community among whom it is established; or the absence of every kind of order supported by the armed force provided and maintained with the consent of the community; but the presence of that kind of order which obtains when each member of a community agrees to want only the kind of order which will not interfere wiht the kind of order likely to be wanted by individuals who compose the rest of the community.” (Dora Marsden, “Anent the Decalogue,” The Egoist, Vol 1, No 5, March 2, 1914, p.84)

She acknowledges here, and elsewhere, that order is always a question of whose order.

The Creed of a Middle-Class Man by W.L. George


" I believe in the suburbs of London. I believe 
they are enough for me. I believe that I must shave 
every evening and take a bath every morning, unless  
I have overslept myself, wear dark suits as is 
seemly in the City. I believe in drawing-rooms 
for the use of callers, semi-detached villas, 
nasturtiums in season and dogs with aristocratic, if distant relatives. 
I believe that public-school boys, 
University men (who must not be called Varsity 
men), and commissioned officers are snobs. I believe that the West End 
is a gilded haunt of vice. I believe in sober worship once a week, 
regular payments to the clergy. I believe in temperance, saving 
an occasional bust, a spree, a night on the tiles 
(when the wife is in the country), but even then 
I believe I mustn't go too far. I believe in a bit 
of fun with a lady now and then, being a dog and 
all that, so long as there's no harm in it. I believe 
that I am a gentleman and must be genteel, not 
too tony though, for it must not be said that I 
swank. And I believe enough to be saved with. 
I believe that my wife loves me and that I must 
reward her by insuring my life; I believe that my 
sons should be clerks and that my daughters should 
wait until clerks marry them. I believe that, when 
I die, the neighbours must approve of my funereal 
pageant. I believe that I must be honest, that I 
must not swear in mixed company, that I must visit 
the upper classes whom I despise. I believe that 
I am the backbone of England. I am a middle- 
class man." 

excerpted from The Making of An Englishman (1914):  
full text available here

Crazy Celebrity Birthday Cakes!

I meant it when I said I was working on my German by reading celebrity gossip sites.  Today’s vocabulary word:  Ungetüm, monstrosity, taken from this great site about crazy celebrity birthday cakes.  Kim Kardashian’s is plastered with pictures of her; Snooki’s has condoms at the bottom; Lady Gaga’s is crazy pieces of smeared cake; Rihanna’s has some sort of icon that has some sort of boot that looks a little bit reminiscent of Shrek’s skin; Selena Gomez’s weirdly has roses sticking out of it, gifted from newly-inked Justin Bieber (is that supposed to be romantic? just looks sort of hazardous to me, and also there is a lot of pink in that picture); and the only cake that I would want to eat is Nicky Hilton’s, which looks incredibly appetizing and relatively normal.


I am so pleased to discover there is an entire site devoted to the Stabi’s insanity. I will have to use my “rapidly emerging German skills,” “increasing daily” from all the blogs I’m reading about Kate Middleton, to approximately translate some of these amazing gems from Blog “StabiBlues.” Just a quick little preview that gives some insight to the situation, however, might be: “Wow, the Stabi thinks of everything!”


Möchte man in der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin den Lesesaal betreten, so muss man sich ausweisen, mit dem Bibliotheksausweis natürlich. Kann man so nachweisen, dass man berechtigt ist die Bibliothek zu benutzen, stellen die Mitarbeiter und Mitarbeiterinnen der Eingangskontrolle eine Art Passierschein aus (Nicht verlieren!!!). Auf diesem Kontrollzettel wird fein säuberlich vermerkt, wieviele Bücher man in den Lesesaal einführen möchte. Dabei wird unterschieden zwischen eigenen Büchern und Bänden der Staatsbibliothek. Alles hat hier seine Ordnung. Auch für den Fall, dass ein Benutzer mehr als einen Laptop mitbringen möchte ist gesorgt, denn auf dem Passierschein gibt es ein kleines Kästchen, in das sich die Anzahl der mitgebrachten Computer eintragen läßt.

Toll, wie die Stabi an alles denkt!

Möchte man dann nach längerer Arbeit an der Diss endlich den Lesesaal verlassen, so begibt man sich zum Ausgang und zeigt wiederum den Passierschein und den Bibliotheksausweis vor. Ja, Sie lesen richtig, auch den Bibliotheksausweis…

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The Berlin Stabi Monster


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Only Germany could have produced a monster like the Stabi.  (Before I begin, let me clarify as a prologue that I dearly love Berlin. But this library is a monster. I have just left, and, two bowls of soup and a large amount of water later, and the promise of a huge pot of potatoes currently cooking, I might survive my hour in the Stabi).

To begin with, the first time I tried to enter the Stabi, it took me three times.  To even enter its hallowed walls, you need a lot of proof that you exist.  Blood samples, preferably, but in case you forgot your needle of choice, they will accept your passport and proof of police registration.  (Yes, for a library card. To read books, even just to walk inside and take a seat).

Then, after you have passed that harrowed test, you must pass the second test:  putting all of your belongings in a little plastic see-through bag.  Laptops must be taken out of their bags.  Water is not allowed. (I failed this test the first time because I tried to enter with my normal bag; I failed the second time because I came back with the see-through bag, but I had my laptop in its bag).  They are really particular about the bags. (And I cannot believe that no one has ironically put a picture of one of these bags on the internet!) REVISED:  In my desperate search to find a freaking Stabi bag (where are they??), I discovered that every year between 100,000 to 120,000 of these stupid plastic bags are used, costing the library system between 12,000 to 16,000 Euros (article written in 2008).  Let me suggest letting the academic children play with books with their water bottles at a safe distance is not going to cost 16,000 Euros of damage (per year).

Then, before you can go through the magic turnstyle (as if you are entering another planet, which, by the way, YOU ARE), you need to receive a slip of paper that clarifies what exactly you have in your bag–in case the see through bag wasn’t self-explanatory and transparent enough.  The people sitting at the magic turnstyle give you one of three stamps:  1) PC for personal computer 2) private book if you are bringing in your own books (but no stamp if you bring in, say, a planner or an electronic reader; the Stabi is not that differentiated, as it’s anal but antiquated) 3) Stabi/library book.  You have to hang on to this piece of paper and return it to these souls as you leave. Imagine the number of trees that have suffered because of this ridiculous system.

[Pause:  there are eight pages of house rules, if you can handle it]

Moreover, there is, as I have already suggested, no food or drink allowed–not even water.  You must lock all of your belongings in the lockers outside in the foyer.  Am I the only one who thinks this is an academic health hazard?  So each time if you want to step out to make a phone call or, god forbid, hydrate, you have to return this stupid slip of paper and get a new one.  (Despite the fact that Germany has one of the most sophisticated recycling systems on the planet, they have this moronic library system of individual stamped pieces of paper for each entry into the library).

What I find comical is that you are able to take books out of the library. Oh, trust me, when I am enjoying these books at home, they are surrounded by water, tea, and yummy little cookies.   I expressed my outrage to a German friend that not even water was allowed in the Stabi, and he seemed to think this was totally normal.  Of course, was his response.  It’s so the books won’t get all fatty. It’s too protect them.  Yes, the books need protection. They need to be kept safe.  Until everyone takes them home on their bikes in the rain and then exposes them to elements like tea. Like I am doing now…Danger!

Much like only England could have produced Lord Henry’s uncle in The Picture of Dorian Gray, only Germany could have produced this system. I usually last about an hour, and then I leave, gasping for breath, dehydrated, and on the verge of Körperverletzung (bodily injury).  You see lots of people in the bathroom–I kid you not–shoveling water into their mouths using their hands like pigs at the trough. I don’t blame them. But somehow it’s just never quite enough water for me.

It’s my goal to somehow smuggle water into the Stabi and drink it into the bathroom.  I think this could be possible with a little mini flask snuck into my pencil case.  Not a huge goal, but, trust me, were you to spend 20 seconds in this place, you would feel like this pencil-case-hydration-smuggle-act was starting a riot of independence.

It’s too bad, as the Stabi could otherwise be a lovely place to work.  There are interesting plants and windows, as well as some generally lovely and soothing scalloped curves and lights and the library has, per capita, I think, some of the most attractive people in Berlin gathered under one roof.  The amount of interesting glasses and hair do’s is staggering. Some people develop “Stabi crushes” based on people they see there repeatedly. I have a great interest in cultivating a Stabi crush, but unfortunately, that means I would need to spend time there…whereas my apartment allows me to do things like lounge on the sofa and, more importantly, drink water. I think I’ll cultivate a crush on my mint plant.  Please note, dear attractive and interesting Stabi people, if you would like to cultivate a crush on me, you can find me…anywhere but in the Stabi.  Probably reading somewhere, drinking water, eating, and gazing adoringly at my mint plant.

Seared by the Gaze of a Peeping Tom, William Green –

Among many other things, this article raises questions and problems about how to prosecute repeat sex offenders…and particularly, if they are given a reduced sentence, what is to keep the sex offender from repeating the offense again?

Just before his trial was to begin, he pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors and offered, to my mind, a weak statement of contrition. At his sentencing hearing, which fell on Sept. 11, 2001, my four daughters testified — the only victims to do so. The judge gave Mr. Green half the time the prosecution sought. I fear that when Mr. Green is freed, his first action might be to buy a video camera to carry in the palm of his hand.

via Seared by the Gaze of a Peeping Tom, William Green –