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: mtv.com
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”