3 Responses to Les Miserables, Social Networks, and the NSA

  1. The NSA’s database of Americans’ phone records can easily be used to recreate detailed maps of the social networks of all Americans (in fact, it doubtlessly is already being used).

    Our current government, our future governments, and anyone else they want to sell or share this information to (or anyone who hacks in and steals it) are now able to identify, at a glance, everyone within X degrees of separation from you.

    And, of course, the reverse: they can find YOU if you are connected in any way to someone they don’t like. Are you a friend of a friend of someone who buys or sells weed? Did a second cousin of yours ever donate money to a militant anti-abortion group? Did your best friend cheat on her taxes last year? Is it possible that a close friend of yours has a brother whose roommate is a Muslim who studied abroad?

    Do you want to be caught up in that net?

    The diagram above shows the social networks in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables (the diagram is from a great paper about social networks). As you can see, Jean Valjean, the protagonist, is only a few clicks away from everyone… from his nemesis Javert to Napoleon himself. Could the NSA use information like this to connect the Administration’s political enemies to America’s real enemies? What else could they do with this information?

    We all have reason to fear this program. Even if you’re an idiot and you trust President Bush to use this information fairly and wisely, do you feel confident that you can trust the next President to do the same?

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