While information provided by users may be the most detailed information collected, by far the most pervasive information collection comes from the operation of the network itself. This data is stored in log files created by network programs and devices.
Log files are ubiquitous. Programmers add log files to their programs to assist in writing and debugging. System operators leave log files enabled so they can verify that software is working correctly, and so they can diagnose the cause of problems when things do not operate properly. Governments and marketers use this information because it is an excellent source of data.
Computers are extraordinarily complicated systems; few system operators are aware of all the log files that their computers create. Many times, a system operator will firmly assert that a particular piece of information is not being retained by their computer system, only to discover that in fact the information is being retained, somewhere in a log file.
There is fundamentally no way for the user of a computer system to know with certainty if a log file is being created of the user’s activities. Many organizations that have assured users that records were not being kept of user actions have later discovered that activities were in fact logged. Likewise, many organizations that assumed activities were logged have later discovered problems with the logging system.
Some computer systems automatically age and discard old log files, a process ...