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1 Charles Johnson  Fri, Feb 21, 2014 11:31:55am

Actually, I’ve never heard anyone say “metadata doesn’t matter.”

2 Charles Johnson  Fri, Feb 21, 2014 11:32:20am

It doesn’t bode well when an article begins with a straw man argument.

3 Political Atheist  Fri, Feb 21, 2014 11:57:41am

re: #1 Charles Johnson

As a quote maybe. You might be taking it more literally than intended. As an impression some seek to leave us with not so much a strawman. I think if we look at the point, that many of influence seek to minimize in our minds how powerful metadata can be the statement holds up. However be that as it may, I think many people will be surprised at the powerful nature of metadata, simply because they don’t have the education or math skills to figure it out.

Now thanks to these students and budding young scientists we have a far more accessible idea of the scale or power of the analysis.

But let me back this up with another view from a respected outlet.

Calling it metadata does not make the surveillance less intrusive
npr.org

“This is just metadata. There is no content involved.” That was how Sen. Dianne Feinstein defended the NSA’s blanket surveillance of Americans’ phone records and Internet activity. Before those revelations, not many people had heard of metadata, the term librarians and programmers use for the data that describes a particular document or record it’s linked to. It’s the data you find on a card in a library catalog, or the creation date and size of a file in a folder window. It’s the penciled note on the back of a snapshot: “Kathleen and Ashley, Lake Charles, 1963.” Or it could be the times, numbers and GPS locations attached to the calls in a phone log…

…That’s the same kind of metadata that the NSA insists it needs to trawl. Its defenders maintain we have to be willing to trade some privacy for security, and right now we’re all arguing about where to put the boundaries. But some advocates of the surveillance have also tried to soft-pedal its intrusiveness. You hear people pronouncing “metadata” as a soothing incantation, as if your right to privacy ends as soon as you lick and seal the envelope. Sifting through the metadata, the president said, involves just “modest encroachments on privacy.” James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, compared the programs to combing through a library with millions of volumes and sorting them by their Dewey decimal numbers, without actually opening and reading them.

4 Charles Johnson  Fri, Feb 21, 2014 12:11:45pm

You don’t have to convince me - I’m totally aware of how metadata can be used. I just don’t like straw man arguments that serve only to demonize opponents.

5 Political Atheist  Fri, Feb 21, 2014 12:15:17pm

re: #4 Charles Johnson

Did you like the young mens presentation?

6 Political Atheist  Fri, Feb 21, 2014 12:47:07pm

Can we square the accuracy of ” This is just metadata. There is no content involved.” with the following? Not really IMHO.

So how bad could it be?

The answer, according to the mathematician and former Sun Microsystems engineer Susan Landau, whom I interviewed while reporting on the plight of the former N.S.A. whistleblower Thomas Drake and who is also the author of “Surveillance or Security?,” is that it’s worse than many might think.

“The public doesn’t understand,” she told me, speaking about so-called metadata. “It’s much more intrusive than content.” She explained that the government can learn immense amounts of proprietary information by studying “who you call, and who they call. If you can track that, you know exactly what is happening—you don’t need the content.”

Let’s reflect a second. You don’t need the content. That’s makes all the explanations that seek to minimize the power of this as at best disingenuous, at worst a damn lie. So it seems just a small exaggeration to me to say “Some say metadata does not matter”. Not literally true but true in principle by way of phrases spoken by intelligence oversight personnel like Diane Feinstein. designed to mislead us to think this is not so powerful or intrusive despite the facts the real data professionals can offer.


Bottom line to me is the lack of content surveillance should not make me feel any better about it. So I fully agree with and support the effort by advocates, embraced by the administration to end or substantially alter that program to lessen the intrusion.

7 ObserverArt  Sat, Feb 22, 2014 8:14:45am

Question for you Political Atheist.

If the government gives up meta data collection, is there really any change in how much less of an intrusion the data represents to anyone’s privacy concerns?

You have two students, without any government help, able to demonstrate the meta data they can get from an email and do pretty much what the government can do with the same data. Isn’t that as troubling as what many fear the NSA is doing?

In other words, the meta data still exists. It can still be used. Why would the government need to run a program when “others” like Amazon, credit reporting agencies, banks, license bureaus, stores, etc. can all team up and do a complete profile of an individuals life.

I know I am simplifying my argument, but the bottom line is the data is a part of the digital world. It exists. Should anyone feel safer knowing the NSA isn’t using the data, but the data is all still out there?

It almost sounds like what some want is a false sense of security. Sleep better at night knowing the NSA isn’t collecting all that data, but knowing all the data is still there to be collected by ‘others’ isn’t really all that private is it?

If everyone is concerned about their privacy, then a fundamental change in the entire digital world is in order. Computers are data. The internet is data. Your phone is data. Your credit card is data. How would you ever reverse digital machines from not storing data and then relating that data to other computers?

Everything would have to be a complete dump of any data storage transaction as soon as you stopped a process, completed a command, changed a page view, left a program, hung up the phone, paid a bill. But then how would you be able to go back and check your accounts, remember all those phone numbers that are no longer able to be stored, etc.

8 Political Atheist  Sat, Feb 22, 2014 10:40:52am

re: #7 ObserverArt

Good points! Well said, Let’s simplify just a little more.
Uses of metadata can and should be regulated. I would set aside government and law enforcement as a very different potential abuse of data than those commercial applications like filling my browser with ads specific to my online tastes.

The LAPD, FBI and NSA are supposed to be restrained by key guidelines such as probable cause and or some relation to an actual investigation to search. That’s what was written in by the Patriot Act authors. That’s our key check on that kind of power. While politicians like Nancy Pelosi seek to falsely impart a sense that metadata is less telling about us than content my objection to a fail to provide that customary check grows greatly.

These two young men put the lie to “It’s just metadata”. The proper way to say that is “it’s your data”. Nancy is disingenuous to say “just”. After all in her position she is surely briefed on the true power of that data. Now, we all are. Charles by nature of his enterprise and long coding history knows all this really well. The rest of us? Maybe not so much.

I thought Obamas proposal was brilliant. Have the telco’s and ISP’s keep the metadata longer. Then when there is a connection to an investigation or some probable cause.

Commercial use-Now online privacy can and should be regulated for protection of our interests over corporate interest. So yeah that data is out there and we are way late to properly regulating it’s uses.

Let’s compare the negative consequences of government intrusion and commercial. The law enforcement side can really wreck our lives. (see no fly list) What can Google do? Nothing like that. Their intrusion is for profit. A commercial exploit. Sucks but nobody goes to jail or gets arrested or damaged by a very wide investigation net.

Keep in mind all my objections apply (IMO) without any real abuse being alleged. “It’s just metadata” is another way to mislead us and for a bonus is another subtle way to say if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about. Awful logic.

9 Political Atheist  Sat, Feb 22, 2014 11:37:03am

oopsie-Added for the above

“I thought Obamas proposal was brilliant. Have the telco’s and ISP’s keep the metadata longer. Then when there is a connection to an investigation or some probable cause, proceed as necessary, just like any normal police/L.E. procedure.”


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