A Brave New World In The Cloud

This morning I woke up and had a LinkedIn request. LinkedIn is stupid, but I have it for some reason. I’ve never figured out what to do with it, nor received any benefit from it, but that’s beside the point. After I accepted the request, it then suggested “people I may know.”

I start browsing through the list, and something startled me. It was suggesting current clients of mine, prospective clients, and opposing counsel. Many of whom I’ve never met in person, and have only emailed a few times. We’re not Facebook friends, we’re not on Google Circles, and we don’t follow each other on Twitter. No, these are people I have simply emailed privately back and forth with. Other than our private emails, there is no trace that I had ever encountered many of these suggested contacts. Several were not even in my geographic area, we had no shared connections, and my only connection to them is either being a client of mine or counsel in another case. Our only traceable connections were emails back and forth.

To put it mildly, the discovery was unsettling. How the hell does LinkedIn know who I’m emailing with? Isn’t that information private?

Then I got to thinking….

My email is through Google Apps for Business. Google apps is a third party and in possession of all my private emails and contacts. Does this mean that Google is providing LinkedIn with people who I contact via email? How else would LinkedIn have known who I digitally associate with?

Alright, but it’s just LinkedIn. Who cares if they know who I email and suggest I “connect” to them? That’s helpful, right? Isn’t that what the marketeers call leveraging social media to “accelerate” relationships?

Then I really got to thinking. If LinkedIn can get access to my private emails, and use them to assemble a profile on my network, who else can?

Ah, quit being stupid. Who would want to do that?

Maybe… the government?

See, military intelligence is mostly about looking at people’s networks and making connections. For instance, it’s pretty obvious who is associated with the Legal Blogosphere, the Happysphere, etc just by looking at how people are connected online. You can learn a lot about people by who they associate with. I have my friends from the local bar association, high school, college, law school, legal blogosphere, etc. You can just look at my social network and build a pretty damn accurate picture of me – Philly guy, lawyer, Fishtown, hangs out with other urban professionals and is a legal blogger.

In the olden days, if the government wanted to build a case against someone, they would have to do some undercover work and figure out which networks people were involved in. My guess is when combating terrorism, the intelligence community will try and see who is connected to the bad guys, and how.

But what if social media has become a quasi-intelligence operation on everyone who uses it? If LinkedIn has access to this data, the government can instantly figure out who you associate with just by seeing who you email. From there, they can paint a pretty damn accurate assessment of who you are. And if they know who you are emailing, and how frequently, let’s say that picture is a bit more interesting.

While social media and the cloud are convenient, they have also created the biggest piece of intelligence ever. And what I find interesting is the government didn’t have to do any work – we handed it to them smiling, and then hit the “like” button afterwards.

Now, I doubt the NSA cares about who I email, and I’m not looking out my bedroom window for black helicopters. I seriously doubt anyone is reading every single one of my emails (or updating my Facebook status), and I am reasonably certain that they use any data collected to catch terrorists and big time criminals (or create the terrorist attacks and then arrest those responsible, but that is besides the point).

This is what worries me… only ten years ago, if the government wanted data like this they would have to obtain a search warrant. If they wanted my private files and to know who I was corresponding with, subpoenas would need to be issued and they would have to rifle through large filing cabinets. I presume there would be some level of due process. I would certainly argue that much of what they are seeking is privileged, irrelevant, and a fishing expedition.

Now all that data is readily available thanks to the kind folks who are so kind to store it for us, available on a sliver platter. With no knowledge to you that information you may have believed is private is actually being turned over to many other sources. Corporations are obtaining this data under the guise of being helpful. Helping us connect with people, being more social. Accelerating relationships. That is all so very helpful, right?

While we lawyers have done nothing but espoused the benefits of the cloud, is anyone else concerned that the government now has unlimited access to a lot of data, most of which was private just ten years ago, and does not even need to afford us due process to obtain it? Can lawyers safely email with clients without potentially exposing them to government scrutiny, or giving the government a leg up in a criminal investigation?

I mean, if LinkedIn can put together an accurate profile on me based on who I email, why can’t the government? And should we be letting them?

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18 Responses to A Brave New World In The Cloud

  1. T Patrick Henry says:

    Time to water the tree of Liberty Jordan! People seem to forget that we have a 4th amendment in this republic. Why do we have it? Because British troops were writing their own search warrants. Kind of like FBI agents writing their own “national security” letters that land me in jail if I tell anyone I was issued one.

  2. Turk says:

    I seriously doubt it is related to email. But if two people are both “connected” to the same 3rd person, LinkedIn will no doubt try to hook all of you up together.

    Think, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

  3. I’ve got the same thing happening with linked in and it isn’t through mutual connections. It’s definitely email.

  4. I just sent you a LinkedIn request. That means will be connected on Facebook, Twitter, AND LinkedIn. We’re like, totally besties now.

    Also, if I were a criminal defense lawyer, I wouldn’t store shit in the cloud.

  5. I’ve seen similar things and my belief is that they link to you through other people who’ve expressly imported their email address books. Linkedin have your email address, but not access to your gmail data, but your clients have been kind enough to share up their email communications and that connects to you.

    Which in many ways is worse, because it’s a lot harder to protect yourself from people who share stuff about you.

  6. Root problem is Google.

  7. Jeff Gamso says:

    LinkedIn is a monster.

    LinkedIn wants to tap into your address book so it can send everyone there your request that they connect with you. (My wife once accidentally clicked yes to allow it and suddenly had dozens if not hundreds of connections to a service she could never figure out just why she’d signed up for in the first place; I declined the invitation after checking with her to be sure it was an accidental request.)

    Then it taps into all it has about those folks whose addresses it has and presents their connections (or e-mail lists if it has them) as people you might know. And since we all want to be connected to everyone . . . .

    I have no idea just how or why I’m signed up with them, I don’t see any benefit to it, and although I keep getting notices that I’ve been endorsed for this or that skill or expertise by people who don’t know if I have it, I decline suggestions that they be listed on my page.

    All of which reminds me of why I’m not on facebook or twitter or whatever the latest iteration is.

    But will all of you please accept this invitation to connect with me on LinkedIn? Please! It’s so cool to have connections.

  8. Have you had the experience of clicking on a feature in your email, like say, the JUNK folder, but instead – you end up on Facebook? Yep, it’s been happening alot to me lately, along with email invitations to join Linkedin from people I don’t have social network connections to.

  9. Anonymous says:

    If M Night Shyamalan sees dead people in his movies…..LOL Then the government can now get just about anything information they need, as we hand it to them on our profiles and Emails. Nothing is safe anymore. So long to Attorney Client privilege.

    FYI, Clients, Facebook postings took down a divorce case. Why tell your so called friends on Facebook that you have a special friend for all to see. Dah

  10. […] it’s a reminder that not everyone on the internet wishes to give up every bit of personal information to enjoy the shiny glory of the iWorld. The […]

  11. Anonymous says:

    Having worked in Law and Intelligence–Don’t get your knickers in a twist. The NSA has been looking at international comint for a long time–and with proper authorization all along the way. They don’t have any authority to look at strictly domestic comms and will throw out any that they inadvertently come across. Yes, it likely happens (by the FBI all the time–and with authority there too), but I doubt it happens purposefully, and when it is discovered it is investigated to determine how it happened and who might be to blame and how future instances can be avoided or mitigated. Also realize that comms are not considered collected until they are put in a digestable format. .

    Yes, the newest, greatest intelligence source is without question, OSINT–Open Source Intelligence, but private industry is doing much more than the government ever even imagined in the domestic environment. Want to know where the greatest databases are in the domestic environment? Try Las Vegas or Palo Alto.

    Snowden is NOT a hero–he IS a criminal–and deserves to be treated like one, and hopefully someday soon he will be.

  12. Grant says:

    Facebook’s cookies can get into your gmail addressbook, though I don’t know how the actual mechanism works. A few years ago — yes, the capability has been around for a few years — I kept getting friend suggestions for someone I don’t socialize with and with whom I have zero mutual Facebook friends, but with whom I’d exchanged a few e-mails regarding a real estate transaction.

    Don’t get spooked. Facebook isn’t reading your e-mails; it’s just looking at your contacts. It’s probably in the user agreement you clicked when you started using Facebook.

    One way to avoid the sharing is to log out of e-mail and blow your history, cache, and cookies before logging into Facebook. Then when you’re done with Facebook, log out and lather, rinse, repeat. Same with LinkedIn.

  13. I have always been really creeped out by how LinkedIn would know who I emailed — and I’m not talking about people I email now on a regular basis. I mean people I emailed 10 years and 3 firms ago, from email systems and addresses that are no longer in existence — there is something to it. A couple of years ago I had dinner with Eric Ly, one of the co-founders of LinkedIn and after a few beers (not the good craft stuff like you like, just regular ole’ Sam Adams), I asked him about it … he just smiled but would never answer me.

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