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Wondering What Harmless 'Metadata' Like the NSA Compiles Can Actually Reveal? German Politician Shows You


"It changes both our perception of communication and our trust in Mr. Obama."

The term "metadata" has been tossed around lately, especially after the leak about the NSA's classified programs last month. It's a collection of allegedly harmless -- and nothing too specific -- data from phone and Internet companies. But what if that's not quite true?

Prior to leak about the NSA, TheBlaze detailed just what this information could show about an individual when the government investigating phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors was a hot button issue. But now a German politician has taken it a step further, using six months of his own metadata to give a visual of what this information really depicts.

Malte Spitz, a member of Germany's Green party, sued the telecommunication company Deutsche Telekom to give up 35,830 records of his data from 2009 into 2010. Zeit Online then compiled these six months of Spitz's life on a map showing how many incoming and outgoing calls and text messages were had and how long he used the Internet.

Here are a couple screenshots of the activity, but be sure to take a look at Zeit Online for more of this interactive metadata graphic (Note: be sure to try out hitting "play" on Zeit's website to see how Spitz traveled too):

malte spitz metadata (Image: Zeit Online)

malte spitz metadata (Image: Zeit Online)

malte spitz metadata (Image: Zeit Online)

malte spitz metadata (Image: Zeit Online)

malte spitz metadata (Image: Zeit Online)

"We combined this geolocation data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites, all of which is all freely available on the internet," Zeit Online wrote. And when all this is taken together, it reveals a lot.

Spitz explained as much in an op-ed in the New York Times Sunday about it titled "Germans Loved Obama. Now We Don't Trust Him."

Spitz explained to readers that six months of his data was retained per a 2006 European Union directive, which was met with "huge opposition" and later found unconstitutional in the country.

"In Germany, whenever the government begins to infringe on individual freedom, society stands up. Given our history, we Germans are not willing to trade in our liberty for potentially better security. Germans have experienced firsthand what happens when the government knows too much about someone," Spitz wrote.

"Three weeks ago, when the news broke about the National Security Agency’s collection of metadata in the United States, I knew exactly what it meant. My records revealed the movements of a single individual; now imagine if you had access to millions of similar data sets. You could easily draw maps, tracing communication and movement. You could see which individuals, families or groups were communicating with one another. You could identify any social group and determine its major actors," he continued later in his op-ed. [Emphasis added]

With this latest news of the NSA's data collection, Spitz wrote that U.S. President Barack Obama speaking outside the Brandenburg Gate on June 19 --  just five days after The Guardian had broken its first NSA story based on information leaked to it from Edward Snowden -- "looked a lot different from the one who spoke in front of the Siegessäule in July 2008."

"During Mr. Obama’s presidency, no American political debate has received as much attention in Germany as the N.S.A. Prism program. People are beginning to second-guess the belief that digital communication stays private. It changes both our perception of communication and our trust in Mr. Obama," Spitz wrote.

Spitz went on to describe the shift Germans have had from solidarity with the U.S. after 9/11 to one that through the Bush administration and into the Obama administration has led to questioning "whether Americans actually share our understanding of the right balance between liberty and security."

"When courts and judges negotiate secretly, when direct data transfers occur without limits, when huge data storage rather than targeted pursuit of individuals becomes the norm, all sense of proportionality and accountability is lost," he said.

As of right now, Spitz said the "trust and credibility" Obama once had in Germany has now been undermined.

Spitz ends his op-ed suggesting Obama should have included in his speech not James Madison's quote that "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare,” but Benjamin Franklin saying “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

(H/T: Reddit)


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