Monday, June 24, 2013

Meta Data

(Editorial cartoon by Glenn McCoy and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and please return.)

Edward Snowden has begun his journey to avoid prosecution for espionage.  His trip began in Russia, and as of this writing, there is no firm final destination.  That will presumably be the shape of his life, given the rather egregious charge he has been tagged with by the DOJ.

I came across a helpful article at McClatchy DC which clarifies just what Mr. Snowden was talking about.  Keep in mind that all of this is "legal" under the Patriot Act.  I am quoting rather extensively because the technical part is important.

The GPS location information embedded in a digital photo is an example of so-called metadata, a once-obscure technical term that’s become one of Washington’s hottest new buzzwords.

The word first sprang from the lips of pundits and politicians earlier this month, after reports disclosed that the government has been secretly accessing the telephone metadata of Verizon customers, as well as online videos, emails, photos and other data collected by nine Internet companies. President Barack Obama hastened to reassure Americans that “nobody is listening to your phone calls,” while other government officials likened the collection of metadata to reading information on the outside of an envelope, which doesn’t require a warrant.

But privacy experts warn that to those who know how to mine it, metadata discloses much more about us and our daily lives than the content of our communications. ...

“Metadata is information about what communications you send and receive, who you talk to, where you are when you talk to them, the lengths of your conversations, what kind of device you were using and potentially other information, like the subject line of your emails,” said Peter Eckersley, the technology projects director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group.

Powerful computer algorithms can analyze the metadata to expose patterns and to profile individuals and their associates, Eckersley said.
“Metadata is the perfect place to start if you want to troll through millions of people’s communications to find patterns and to single out smaller groups for closer scrutiny,” he said. “It will tell you which groups of people go to political meetings together, which groups of people go to church together, which groups of people go to nightclubs together or sleep with each other.”

Metadata records of search terms and webpage visits also can reveal a log of your thoughts by documenting what you’ve been reading and researching, Eckersley said.

“That’s certainly enough to know if you’re pregnant or not, what diseases you have, whether you’re looking for a new job, whether you’re trying to figure out if the NSA is watching you or not,” he said, referring to the National Security Agency. Such information provides “a deeply intimate window into a person’s psyche,” he added. ...

A former senior official of the National Security Agency said the government’s massive collection of metadata allowed the agency to construct “maps” of an individual’s daily movements, social connections, travel habits and other personal information.

“This is blanket. There is no constraint. No probable cause. No reasonable suspicion,” said Thomas Drake, who worked unsuccessfully for years to report privacy violations and massive waste at the agency to his superiors and Congress. ...

Drake added that U.S. telecommunications companies are prohibited from publicly disclosing arrangements with the NSA and are protected under the Patriot Act from lawsuits. “They literally have the protection of the U.S. government from any, any lawsuit. The United States is literally turning into a surveillance state,” he said. “This is the new normal.”   [Emphasis added]

I don't think the US is turning into a surveillance state, I think it already is a surveillance state and has been since shortly after the first passage of the Patriot Act, if not before.  And even if we were somehow able to convince Congress to repeal that act and demand to see the records of the FISA court, there will still remain all of that data mined just waiting to be used.

I grieve for this nation.

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Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Just had a little conversation with the people on Plum Line (Greg Sargent's blog at the WaPo).

These are people who all hated this stuff when Bush and Cheney did it.

They're all "Snowden should go to prison, he broke the law, Obama made it legal!" now.

It's so depressing, I can hardly tell you.

4:41 PM  

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