The way the Abbott government talks about metadata, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s utterly innocuous. A phone number here, a website there, a sprinkling of Google searches, a dash of GPS; on its own, it’s just beige little pieces of nothing. Put it together, though, and it can paint a vibrant picture of your life.

That life can be retroactively examined in detail, and not just by hulking terrorist hunters and police; last Friday, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that film studios could access retained data with a court order.

The 17th century clergyman Cardinal Richelieu said, “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him”. For the government, film studios, insurance companies, banks, and employers past and present, metadata is a rope, reminding 23,000,000 honest Australians to know their fucking place.

Most metadata is collected without us even knowing it. The beauty of ubiquitous computing and digital communication is that it is for the most part frictionless; and because we glide from Google to phone calls to Words With Friends to maps without resistance, we don’t necessarily think about what’s going on behind the scenes.

Behind the scenes, a story is being recorded. The problem with metadata stories, though, is they can be massively — potentially tragically — misinterpreted.

What follows is a film retold using metadata. It is either about a larrikin skipping school, a high school principal stalking a student, or a trio of friends rampaging through Chicago.

7:00am          Google ‘”bleeding out of the eyeballs”

7:02am          Google “Ebola”

7:04am          Google “clammy hands”

8:00am          Website:

8:10am           Google “weather chicago”

9:00am          Outbound call: Cameron Frye

9:02am          Outbound call: Cameron Frye

9:30am          Inbound call: Edward R. Rooney, Shermer High School

9:30am          Website: Shermer High School administration portal

9:40am          Inbound call: Payphone, Shermer High School

9:45am          Outbound call: Cameron Frye

9:45am          Inbound call: Tom Bueller

10:15am       Outbound call: Edward R. Rooney, Shermer High School

10:16am       Google “producing a corpse”

10:17am       Outbound call: Edward R. Rooney, Shermer High School

10:30am       Mobile phone tower: near Frye household

10:30am       Mobile phone tower: near Shermer High School

10:45am       Mobile phone tower: Downtown Chicago

10:45am       Inbound call: Edward R. Rooney, Shermer High School

11:10am        Tweet from Sears Tower

11:35am        Tweet from Chicago Stock Exchange

12:00pm      Google “sausage king of chicago”

12:05pm       Outbound call: Chez Quis

12:05pm       Inbound call: Chez Quis

12:15pm       Google “danke schoen lyrics”

1:30pm         Outbound call: 911

2:00pm        Google “rewind odometer”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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