Time’s “Best Twitter Feeds of 2014″

TwitterI was included on Time.com’s “140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2014.”

“No one is better at tracking the twists and turns in the debate over privacy and surveillance than Julia Angwin,” writes Chris Wilson.

For more, follow me @JuliaAngwin.

Dragnet Nation Makes NY Times Best Seller List

bestseller

Dragnet Nation is #24 on the New York Times best seller list for hardcover nonfiction.

Reviews of Dragnet Nation

“Angwin elegantly chronicles this tragedy of the digital commons at the level of policy and our individual civil liberties. . . .Dragnet Nation really kicks in—and becomes a blast to read—when she fights back. As she transforms herself into the invisible woman online, the book becomes by turns spy novel, a how-to guide, and a rumination on the politics of software. . . .  If enough people follow Angwin’s lead, new networks of computer users might manage to open up ever larger holes in the dragnet world.”
-Clive Thompson, Bookforum (read full review here)

“A deeply researched book that is completely of the moment. Dragnet Nation moves right to the top of the list of books we should all read about privacy.”
-Andrew Leonard, Salon.com (read full review here)

“Angwin builds a compelling case that, even for the broader public, the post-9/11 acceptance of foregoing privacy for safety was a bad and unnecessary trade—that ‘some research suggests that collecting vast amounts of data simply can’t predict rare events like terrorism,’ but it will turn common connections into red flags.”
-Kira Goldenberg, Columbia Journalism Review (read full review here)

“Angwin’s struggle with the panoply of counter-surveillance tools—even when armed with time, some money to spare, and the help of leading data privacy experts—shows that laypeople don’t stand a fighting chance. As Angwin notes, what we will need are new laws regulating how companies can collect and use information on us.”
-Lina Khan, American Prospect (read full review here)

“A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist describes today’s world of indiscriminate surveillance and tries to evade it. Angwin (Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America, 2009), who spent years covering privacy issues for the Wall Street Journal, draws on conversations with researchers, hackers and IT experts, surveying the modern dragnet tracking made possible by massive computing power, smaller devices and cheap storage of data…. A solid work for both privacy freaks and anyone seeking tips on such matters as how to strengthen passwords (make them longer and avoid simple dictionary words).”
-Kirkus Reviews (read full review here)

“Angwin . . . releases the contemporary (and, unfortunately, nonfiction) companion book to Orwell’s 1984. Dragnet Nation examines the surveillance economy and its effect on free speech and thought, likely causing readers to rethink the next words they type into a search engine.”
-Daniel Davis-Williams, Los Angeles Magazine (read full review here)

“There is a sense of despair when it comes to privacy in the digital age. Many of us assume that so much of our electronic information is now compromised – whether by corporations or government agencies – that there is little that can be done about it. Sometimes we try to rationalise this by telling ourselves privacy may no longer matter so much. After all, an upstanding citizen should have nothing to fear from surveillance. In Dragnet Nation, Julia Angwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at The Wall Street Journal, seeks to challenge that defeatism.”
-Maija Palmer, Financial Times (read full review here)

“Angwin points to case studies and research that show relentless surveillance is creating a culture of fear that has already begun to chill basic freedoms. . . . Angwin’s warning that ‘information is power’ resonates.”
-Jake Whitney, The Daily Beast (read full review here)

“[Dragnet Nation] is a good primer on the technologies and practices undergirding our culture of surveillance.”
-Jacob Silverman, Los Angeles Times (read full review here)

“Julia Angwin, who oversaw a pioneering series of Wall Street Journalarticles called “What They Know”, starting in 2010, exposes many of the questionable activities that erode privacy—activities that most people know nothing about.”
-The Economist (read full review here

Dragnet Nation on NPR’s “All Tech Considered”

Dragnet Nation was featured on NPR’s “All Tech Considered.” Read the  transcript, or listen below.

Bill Moyers on Dragnet Nation

In a video essay, Bill Moyers recommends Dragnet Nation, calling it “an antidote to Big Brother’s chill.”

Watch below, or read a transcript here.

Dragnet Nation: Available Now

Dragnet Nation cover art

My book, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance is now available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. Here’s the description and some reviews:

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Who’s Watching You, What They Know and Why it Matters

 

We are being watched. We see online ads from websites we’ve visited, long after we’ve moved on to other interests. Our smartphones and cars transmit our location, enabling us to know what’s in the neighborhood but also enabling others to track us. And the federal government, we recently learned, has been conducting a massive data-gathering surveillance operation across the Internet and on our phone lines.

In Dragnet Nation, Julia Angwin of The Wall Street Journal reports from the front lines of America’s surveillance economy, a revelatory and unsettling look at how the government, private companies, and even criminals use technology to indiscriminately sweep up vast amounts of our personal data.

In a world where we can be watched in our own homes, where we can no longer keep secrets, and where we can be impersonated, financially manipulated, or even placed in a police lineup, Angwin argues that the greatest long-term danger is that we start to internalize the surveillance and censor our words and thoughts, until we lose the very freedom that makes us unique individuals. Appalled at such a prospect, Angwin conducts a series of experiments to try to protect herself, ranging from quitting Google to carrying a “burner” phone, showing how difficult it is for an average citizen to resist the dragnets’ reach.

Her book is a cautionary tale for all of us, with profound implications for our values, our society, and our very selves.

—-

Dragnet Nation is an impressive picture of the new world of electronic surveillance—from Google to the NSA. Julia Angwin’s command of the technology is sure, her writing is clear, and her arguments are compelling. This is an authoritative account of why we should care about privacy and how we can protect ourselves.”
—Bruce Schneier, author of Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive

“In this thought-provoking, highly accessible exploration of the issues around personal data-gathering, Julia Angwin provides a startling account of how we’re all being tracked, watched, studied, and sorted. Her own (often very funny) attempts to maintain her online privacy demonstrate the ubiquity of the dragnet—and the near impossibility of evading it. I’ll never use Google in the same way again.”
—Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of Happier at Home and The Happiness Project

“Julia Angwin’s pathbreaking reporting for the Wall Street Journal about online tracking changed the privacy debate. Her new book represents another leap forward: by showing how difficult it was to protect her own privacy and vividly describing the social and personal costs, Angwin offers both a wakeup call and a thoughtful manifesto for reform. This is a meticulously documented and gripping narrative about why privacy matters and what we can do about it.”
—Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO, National Constitution Center, and author of The Unwanted Gaze and The Naked Crowd

Dragnet Nation is a fascinating, compelling, and powerful read. Many of us would simply prefer not to know how much others know about us, and yet Julia Angwin opens a door onto that dark world in a way that both raises a new set of public issues and canvasses a range of solutions. We can reclaim our privacy while still enjoying the benefits of many types of surveillance – but only if we take our heads out of the sand and read this book.”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO, New America

I’m moving to ProPublica

I am excited to announce that I will be joining ProPublica in January, where I will be investigating privacy issues, technology, and the surveillance state:

ProPublica Hires Senior Reporter to Investigate Privacy Issues

New York, N.Y. – Nov. 26, 2013 – ProPublica has hired investigative journalist Julia Angwin as a senior reporter covering privacy, technology and the surveillance state. She will begin work at ProPublica in early January.

Angwin comes to ProPublica after more than a decade at the Wall Street Journal, where she covered the convergence of technology and media. In 2010, she led a team of reporters that chronicled the decline of online privacy – leading to a Gerald Loeb Award. The following year coverage generated by her privacy team was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting, an award Angwin and another team of Journal reporters won in 2003 for coverage of corporate corruption.

Angwin is the author of “Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America” and the forthcoming “Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance.” She earned a B.A. in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1992, and an MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University in 2000.

“Julia brings with her a magnificent portfolio of work, and she will be a stellar addition to our staff,” ProPublica managing editor Robin Fields said.

ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. In 2010, it was the first online news organization to win a Pulitzer Prize. In 2011, ProPublica won its second Pulitzer, the first ever awarded to a body of work that did not appear in print. ProPublica is supported primarily by philanthropy and provides the articles it produces, free of charge, both through its own website and often to leading news organizations selected with an eye toward maximizing the impact of each article. For more information, please visit www.ProPublica.org.

 

Advance Praise for Dragnet Nation

As I mentioned in my last post, my new book, Dragnet Nation, is coming out in February, and is available for pre-order now. Here’s some feedback that it’s gotten so far:

Dragnet Nation is an impressive picture of the new world of electronic surveillance—from Google to the NSA. Julia Angwin’s command of the technology is sure, her writing is clear, and her arguments are compelling. This is an authoritative account of why we should care about privacy and how we can protect ourselves.”
—Bruce Schneier, author of Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive

“In this thought-provoking, highly accessible exploration of the issues around personal data-gathering, Julia Angwin provides a startling account of how we’re all being tracked, watched, studied, and sorted. Her own (often very funny) attempts to maintain her online privacy demonstrate the ubiquity of the dragnet—and the near impossibility of evading it. I’ll never use Google in the same way again.”
—Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of Happier at Home and The Happiness Project

“Julia Angwin’s pathbreaking reporting for the Wall Street Journal about online tracking changed the privacy debate. Her new book represents another leap forward: by showing how difficult it was to protect her own privacy and vividly describing the social and personal costs, Angwin offers both a wakeup call and a thoughtful manifesto for reform. This is a meticulously documented and gripping narrative about why privacy matters and what we can do about it.”
—Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO, National Constitution Center, and author of The Unwanted Gaze and The Naked Crowd

Dragnet Nation is a fascinating, compelling, and powerful read. Many of us would simply prefer not to know how much others know about us, and yet Julia Angwin opens a door onto that dark world in a way that both raises a new set of public issues and canvasses a range of solutions. We can reclaim our privacy while still enjoying the benefits of many types of surveillance – but only if we take our heads out of the sand and read this book.”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO, New America

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Surveillance: A Taxonomy of Known Knowns and Known Unknowns

In the wake of the avalanche of revelations about the scope of domestic surveillance, several people have asked me to help them understand what is going on. So I put together this handy cheat sheet that hopefully explains the key issues.

This is a shorthand version of an explainer I presented last week at the Privacy Law Scholars Conference in Berkeley. With apologies to Donald Rumsfeld, I’ve broken it down into “Known Knowns” and “Known Unknowns.”

Patriot Act Surveillance

Known Knowns:

Who: Verizon, AT&T, and SprintNextel, according to reporting by Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian and the The Wall Street Journal.

What: Records of every single domestic and international telephone call, including the location from which the call was placed, the serial number of the phone, the number dialed and the duration of the call, according to the court order obtained by the Guardian.

Where: Turned over to the National Security Agency daily, according to the court order obtained by the Guardian.

When: Ongoing for the past seven years, according to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Why: To “make connections related to terrorist activities over time,” according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

How: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizes record collections with a court order every three months, according to Sen. Feinstein. Analysts are required to have “reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization” before querying the database of call records, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Legal authority: Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the FBI to order any person or entity to turn over “any tangible things” for “for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.”

Known Unknowns:

Is it legal? Senators including Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have accused the government of secretly reinterpreting the law.

What happens to innocent people’s data? It’s not clear.

Are some telecom companies refusing to participate? It’s not clear.

Does it prevent terrorism? Officials have pointed to two terrorist attacks that were flagged by this program: a New York city subway bombing plot that was foiled, and the Mumbai terror attacks, which were successful.

Have intelligence officials lied about the existence of the program? Maybe. Sen. Wyden has asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to explain his previous denials to Congress.  Last year, National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander told Congress “we don’t have technical insights in the United States.”

 

PRISM Surveillance:

Known Knowns:

Who: Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, AOL, Apple, PalTalk, according to slides obtained by The Guardian and The Washington Post.

What: Content of Internet communications including e-mail, chats, instant messages, according to the slides.

Where: The government can only use this capability to target persons “reasonably believed to be outside the United States” even though the electronic communications may travel through United States computer services, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008.

When: Since 2007, tech companies have worked to build systems that let the government collect this data, according to the slides.

Why:  The government says it needs this capability to investigate terrorism, hostile cyber activities and nuclear proliferation.  

How: The government must obtain a search warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Legal Authority: Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008 authorizes the “targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.”

Known Unknowns:

Is this blanket surveillance? It’s not clear. Before the 2008 law was passed, the government had to identify the target of surveillance. The 2008 law allowed the government to issue “programmatic warrants” that are not based on the identity of an individual, but rather on broader criteria.

How is the data technically handed over? We don’t yet know all the technical details of how data is turned over to government. Companies have said they don’t provide “direct access” but that doesn’t preclude other ways of sharing bulk data. Google told Wired on Tuesday that it either provides information by hand or secure FTP.

What happens to innocent people’s data? The law requires the government to minimize the use of data about U.S. persons.

 

In Summary: The Patriot Act surveillance program is potentially illegal, officials may have lied about it to Congress and it collects information about nearly every single person in the United States. The Prism program is legal, is likely less broad and has some safeguards to protect innocent U.S. residents.

There’s a reason that former Department of Justice attorney Mark Eckenwiler, who specialized in electronic surveillance law, has suggested calling the Patriot Act surveillance program “Hoover.”

 

 

Why I’m unfriending you on Facebook

I have 666 friends on Facebook. By next week, I hope to have none.

I am going to spend this week “unfriending” all of my Facebook friends because I have come to believe that Facebook cannot provide me the level of privacy that I need. And yet, I am not quitting entirely because I believe that as an author and a journalist, it is important to have a Facebook presence.

My specific concern with Facebook is what NYU Professor Helen Nissenbaum calls a lack of “contextual integrity,” – which is a fancy way of saying that when I share information with a certain group or friend on Facebook, I am often surprised by where the data ends up.

Professor Nissenbaum argues that many online services – of which Facebook is simply the most prominent example –share information in ways that violate the social norms established in offline human relationships.

For example: In real life, even if I am friends with someone, I don’t necessarily want to join their book group or cooking group etc. But on Facebook, my friends can join me to a group without my permission, and my membership in that group is automatically made public.

This is no small thing: this exact feature is what caused two University of Texas students to be outed to their parents, when the president of the Queer Chorus joined them to a Facebook group.

Although I am not worried about being outed, I am a journalist who needs to protect my sources, my relationships and my affiliations from public scrutiny. I am also, quite simply, a human who doesn’t want to be shocked by information about myself that I cannot control. And so, I plan to spend this week unfriending all my Facebook friends.

I did not come to this conclusion easily. I have long struggled with the right approach to Facebook.

I joined Facebook on June 26, 2006, back when it was still only available to people with university e-mail addresses. In fact, I signed up for an alumni address from my college just for the purpose of joining Facebook.

My motivation was primarily journalistic: I was researching a book about the social network MySpace and needed to understand the social networking landscape. But I also enjoyed the thrill of reconnecting with friends from high school and college.

But like many Facebook users, I felt burned when in December, 2009, Facebook unilaterally changed all users’ default privacy settings to encourage sharing information to the entire world instead of just ‘friends.’ My list of friends was automatically made public – which is a terrible problem for journalists who may have befriended sources that could be betrayed by disclosure of the relationship.

Outraged, I wrote a column declaring that Facebook had betrayed the confidential nature of friending, and that I was going to treat it as a public forum like Twitter. I opened up my profile entirely; I began accepting all friend requests (even really creepy ones) and scrubbed my profile clean of any personal details. (Facebook later agreed to settle charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission, which alleged that Facebook’s actions were unfair and deceptive).

The technical name for my approach to Facebook was “privacy by obscurity.” By burying good data (my actual relationships) amidst bad data (people I didn’t know), I aimed to shield my relationships from unwanted scrutiny.

However, privacy by obscurity made Facebook almost unusable. My news feed was cluttered with updates from people I didn’t know. Many of my new ‘friends’ were joining me to groups and sending me spam. Slowly but surely, I started using Facebook less and less. Last year, I didn’t post a single update all year.

Now I am researching and writing a book about online privacy, Tracked, to be published next year. In my book, I aim to answer two questions: why does privacy matter? And what should we do about it? To answer the second question, I’ve been trying out several privacy-protecting measures, such as blocking Web tracking technology and setting up new online identities.

But I’ve been struggling to figure out what to do about my long-neglected Facebook account. My privacy by obscurity approach had only netted spammers and made Facebook annoying to use.

I considered trimming my friends list to a bare minimum (as Fred Wilson successfully did), but I realized that I don’t actually keep up with my closest friends and family on Facebook (we use email, texting and phone).

I considered giving up on privacy by obscurity and actually using Facebook to keep up with people I know. But that would require me to trust Facebook to protect my list of friends. I dug around on Facebook’s privacy settings, and found that it still doesn’t allow you to completely protect your list of friends. If you share a friend with someone, your mutual friend will be displayed to both of you.

For a journalist, even that amount of disclosure is too much: Imagine a low-level employee of an institution who befriends a journalist to share information. If official spokesman for that same organization notices that he or she shares a “mutual friend” with a journalist, that disclosure amounts to outing the employee as a source. So that argued against reducing my list of friends to people with whom I actually have a relationships.

I considered just deleting my profile. But I realized I was going to miss three things about Facebook: 1) I like being able to be send private messages to people through Facebook when I don’t have their latest contact information; 2) I like being notified when I’m tagged in a photo or in a post (usually so I can request being untagged); and 3) As a journalist and author, I would like to be ‘found’ by people who want to read my writing.

And so I’ve decided to unfriend everyone and keep a bare-bones profile for the simple purposes of messaging, untagging and being found by people who might want to find me.

For those who I am unfriending, apologies in advance. As bizarre as it sounds, I am actually trying to protect the contextual integrity of our relationship.

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