Why the Metadata the NSA Has on You Matters

Illustration for article titled Why the Metadata the NSA Has on You Matters

In response to the recent news reports about the National Security Agency's surveillance program, President Barack Obama said today, "When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls." Instead, the government was just "sifting through this so-called metadata." The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made a similarcomment last night: "The program does not allow the Government to listen in on anyone’s phone calls. The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber."


What they are trying to say is that disclosure of metadata—the details about phone calls, without the actual voice—isn't a big deal, not something for Americans to get upset about if the government knows. Let's take a closer look at what they are saying:

  • They know you rang a phone sex service at 2:24 am and spoke for 18 minutes. But they don't know what you talked about.
  • They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the topic of the call remains a secret.
  • They know you spoke with an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour. But they don't know what was discussed.
  • They know you received a call from the local NRA office while it was having a campaign against gun legislation, and then called your senators and congressional representatives immediately after. But the content of those calls remains safe from government intrusion.
  • They know you called a gynecologist, spoke for a half hour, and then called the local Planned Parenthood's number later that day. But nobody knows what you spoke about.

Sorry, your phone records—oops, "so-called metadata"—can reveal a lot more about the content of your calls than the government is implying. Metadata provides enough context to know some of the most intimate details of your lives. And the government has given no assurances that this data will never be correlated with other easily obtained data. They may start out with just a phone number, but a reverse telephone directory is not hard to find. Given the public positions the government has taken on location information, it would be no surprise if they include location information demands in Section 215 orders for metadata.

If the President really welcomes a robust debate on the government's surveillance power, it needs to start being honest about the invasiveness of collecting your metadata.

Republished from the EFF under Creative Commons

Image by Konstantin Yolshin/Shutterstock



Of course, there is the other side of the fence:

  • They know a siding company called trying to sell me a new exterior.
  • The know Dan called and we talked for 3 minutes, I then called Jeff and talked for 4 minutes and then called Dan back.
  • They know my work called me.
  • They know I called up Pizza Planet and spoke for 1 minute.
  • They know I called my dad on Fathers Day.

Yeah, you can sometimes learn a lot from meta data. But most of the time you can't. Personally, I don't care so much about tje meta data they collect. It's whet they plan on using it for that concerns me.

If they use it to find out who's calling known threats, fine. I'm all for it. And, If they know I spoke with a HIV testing service, my doctor and my insurance company, why do I care if they do nothing with it?

People automatically assume the worst from the government. (and others, too). But, what if, for example, what if this meta data leads the government to people plotting the next 9/11? Or to a multi-million dollar shipment of heroin coming in? What if it saves hundreds, r even thousands of lives?

And you're worried that some one knows you called 1-800-sexytime and spoke for 4 minutes?

One of the reasons we have a government is to keep us, the citizens safe. People get all up in arms when theres a terrorist attack, or a mass shooting, screaming at the government because they didn't prevent it. But when the government tries to act proctivly, people complain about the invasion of privacy.

And, one final point: This article clearly states "The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber." So, no, they don't know you called 1-800-sexytime, they know someone called 1-800-sexytime. They would need to submit another warrant to get the identifiable data from the phone companies to find out who calls for phone sex.

This is something we need to keep an eye on so the government doesn't abuse it. But so far, all you hear from the EFF, ACLU and the media is the worst case scenarios that haven't even happened yet. Remember, they have already been collecting this info for months. This latest revelation is because they had to force Verizon to comply with the 90 day extension.

***DISCLAIMER*** The contents of this post are my opinion. If you disagree, it doesn't make me wrong and you right. I simply means your opinion is different than mine. I am more than happy discussing differences as long as the conversation remains civil. If your only response is "F**KING R*T*RD! UR MOM BLOWS MONKEYS!" keep your opinions to yourself, because you couldn't discuss something intelligently unless it has to do with Barney.