It’s clear at this point that the NSA is basically a bunch of hoarders, stockpiling our personal data with the same “well what if I need this three months from now!” mentality that compels the rest of us to save old buttons and kitchen gadgets and unread copies of The New Yorker. But amassing the data is only half of the equation. The government also needs tools for processing and analyzing its collection. Perhaps the subscriber metadata that Verizon has been passing to the NSA — not the actual contents of your phone calls but the times, durations, and locations surrounding them — is fairly innocuous on a case by case basis. But when you look at it through software dedicated to the job, you can get something far more polished than you might expect. To see for yourself, just run your inbox through a little web app called Immersion.
The app, built by a group of researchers at MIT, visualizes your social life by peeking at your inbox. “Once you log in,” the site explains, “Immersion will use only the From, To, Cc and Timestamp fields of the emails in the account you are signing in with. It will not access the subject or the body content of any of your emails.” In other words, it ignores all the juicy stuff. And yet, when you see what an accurate map it spits out, it’s hard not to help from feeling a little bit violated.