Organisation: Berlingske (Denmark)

Publication Date: 03/17/2015



This past year collection, logging and monitoring of personal data has drawn headlines all over the world. The Snowden-revelations have exhibited how systematic the American and British intelligence services intercept data from the world's population. Meanwhile, Denmark has had its own project, "#Sporet" (in English "Tracked"), which has made the debate concrete and demonstrated how detailed you can identify peoples' thoughts and living patterns solely by so-called "metadata." Snowden made the term metadata become top of the agenda. The White House has pointed out that the American intelligence service NSA only collects metadata and not content. By this argument president Obama has tried to calm down the discussions. The project #Sporet is based on metadata and documents that these overall data can bring us very close to a person and in the end also be harmful. In Denmark the government has tried to dodge the data debate by consistently responding that it has no knowledge of illegal surveillance by the Americans. Because of this Berlingske worked consistently to involve politicians from the government ruling parties in the data project. In 2014, Berlingske collected, analyzed and presented full data sets on two MPs from each party in government, Sofie Carsten Nielsen (social liberals) and Jens Joel (Socialdemocrats). Berlingske has collected more than 18,000 e-mails, 31,000 registered telecommunications data, 2,400 bank data, 34,000 location points and 2,800 pieces of calendar information. In addition to this Berlingske collected thousands of data from browser history, all iphone apps, photos, internet shopping, tax authorities, police databases, Facebook and more. Some of the data sets spand over many years of time. The data is visualized on a website built especially for the site: www.b.dk/sporet. In this site each data set have been processed and by itself or in combination with each other tells their own unique story through graphs, maps, video, images and other advanced visualizations. For instance you might follow the politicians around for 14 days on a map made from iphone data, running data, SMS and voice call telephone data, credit card data etc. The project has exhibited what huge amounts of data is stored on every Dane, and just how close you can get to a person's private thoughts and living patterns through data. Sofie Carsten Nielsen, who during the project became a minister of higher education, has explained that it has made a huge impression on her, how much information is stored and available about her, and how precisely these data chart her behavior and lifestyle. Socialdemocrat Jens Joel has described the period of the project as "an extreme time both personal and political." The project made Jens Joel encourage Danes to take much better care of their personal data , as well as a polical amibition to work for more data regulation. Both politicians believe that it is an open question whether Berlingske had such a good hold of their lives that it could have ruined their political careers. The data collection and analysis also documented several political stories that made headlines. Jens Joel's metadata from emails - only data of when he has sent and received emails and to and from whom - has revealed a previously secret Socialdemocratic network, one of them a network of politicians that were sent out to critisize the opposition in media and on social media. And Sofie Carsten Nielsen's metadata has shown how the top of the Social Liberal government party had a far greater disagreement than the public had been informed of, when the government scrapped earmarked leave for fathers. The project is the most comprehensive data project made on personal data on individuals worldwide. Not even leading UK or American media have mapped and visualized as many data sets on individuals. #Sporet has attracted international attention and the project has been the subject of features in the BBC several times and the Financial Times. The journalists behind the project has made it transparent to users and readers how Berlingske worked with the data. On a website it is examined how Berlingske have worked with each dataset: How much data Berlingske worked with, what the original data look like, what they looked like after the analysis, what tools and programs was used to process data, and what ethical considerations that might have been necessary for instance with regard to third parties. Director Jacob Mchangama from the think tank Justitia has explicitly referred to #Sporet as an argument that the state's collection of telecommunications data goes too far, while a political majority at houses of parliament is today open to restrict the logging of data. Upon entering the website b.dk/sporet please scroll down to the two interactive interfaces of each politician's home. You will find a flag in the right corner of each interface. Click it for an English version.


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