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Schneier: Metadata Equals Surveillance 191

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Bruce Schneier writes that lots of people discount the seriousness of the NSA's actions by saying that it's just metadata — after all the NSA isn't really listening in on everybody's calls — they're just keeping track of who you call. 'Imagine you hired a detective to eavesdrop on someone,' writes Schneier. 'He might plant a bug in their office. He might tap their phone.' That's the data. 'Now imagine you hired that same detective to surveil that person. The result would be details of what he did: where he went, who he talked to, what he looked at, what he purchased — how he spent his day. That's all metadata.' When the government collects metadata on the entire country, they put everyone under surveillance says Schneier. 'Metadata equals surveillance; it's that simple.'"
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Schneier: Metadata Equals Surveillance

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  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @04:45PM (#44927859) Homepage Journal

    This is a basic fact for anyone dealing with any substantive volume of data. The details are of no interest to anyone in power, but patterns are.

    The dividing line people will have here is whether the 4th amendment(and the human right it's based on) protects a right to privacy or a right against freely targed witchhunt prosecutions. This spying won't especially invade the first, but could easily be construed to lead to the second.

    • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @04:50PM (#44927913)
      Actually, when it comes to metadata, you could make a First Amendment case: freedom of association.
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by i kan reed ( 749298 )

        Freedom to do something doesn't mean no one will know. I support prevention of chilling effects, but that's a weak argument. It's like the stupid 2nd amendment charge by the NRA, only on a more fundamental right.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:08PM (#44928111)

          Yes, because the importance of an inalienable right is judged by the number of the amendment. Good thing they are only violating our 4th amendment rights in passing on the way to the 2nd amendment.

          • same side, people! let's at least pool our resources to confront nsa. they want us to be divided.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:20PM (#44928223)

          If you don't guarantee the general privacy of the masses you don't have freedom of association. In my mind freedom of association is suppose to be that guarantee. Unfortunately the government uses assumptions / suspicions that are not founded on hard evidence to target groups of people. As an example they targeted everybody who accessed services / web sites hosted by Freedom Hosting. If you ask me that was illegal. The same thing can be said about monitoring a group organizing publicly. There is a huge difference between policing a general population and targeting population with surveillance even if many of its members are involved in criminal acts, and then targeting those within, when those within are not themselves necessarily committing illegal acts. You should not assume / suspect me of committing an illegal act simply because I'm associating with a group whose individual members are known to be committing crimes. A few good examples of this would be KKK groups, communist groups, civil rights groups, various African American groups like the Black Panther Party, LGBT groups, pedophilia groups, free software groups (yes, they were targets of the IRS under the Obama administration), etc.

      • Not just the NSA (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ThatAblaze ( 1723456 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:10PM (#44928137)

        People seem to be losing sight of the fact that it isn't only the NSA that is doing this tracking. Europe and China are both huge on tracking, they just haven't had this kind of public leak. So, while the question of which US Constitutional Amendment has been breached is a good question, it doesn't address the larger picture question: Where do we, as citizens of whichever country, draw the line and force our governments to stop?

        • Far to the left of where our governments want it drawn. ;-)
          • by digsbo ( 1292334 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @06:18PM (#44928863)
            I don't think it's the left/right axis. Communism is left. Communism is also authoritarian. It's the authoritarian/libertarian axis that you're interested in here.
            • Re:Not just the NSA (Score:4, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @06:30PM (#44928983)

              Communism is also authoritarian. It's the authoritarian/libertarian axis that you're interested in here.

              Communism isn't authoritarian, Authoritarianism is. On paper, communism couldn't be authoritarian - it's arguably closer to democracy than even the ideal American state was. But that's on paper - in reality it's used by those desiring power to implement something completely different.

              There's many schools of 'libertarian' (which should really be stated as Anarchism) communism, such as anarcho-communism. Marx was, ultimately, and Anarchist/Libertarian.

            • You're confusing economic systems with political systems. One could institute a communist democracy by voting on how resources are used.

              • Nah. It doesn't matter if the power is acquired by a coup or by democratic vote if all political and economic power are state controlled. In this case you will still have Authoritarianism, because those in power will very very quickly find a way to remain in power forever, abusing the power democratically entrusted to them. Hitler was a very clear example of this.
              • It's the democratic vote that's the culprit. Democracy never works in practice. That's what our founders were trying to avoid in establishing the United States as a representative republic.

                That's why the country is in so much trouble today. We've forgotten (or more probably intentionally dumbed down) that we're not a democracy.

                Though most of you probably don't like the John Birch Society, here is a brilliant piece on the difference between republics and democracies.
                • I'd be fine with a democracy. Just make a rule that it takes a 60% vote to pass a law and a 30% vote to repeal one.

                  I'm just not a fan of the authoritarian fascist system we have now.

      • by mendax ( 114116 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @06:15PM (#44928833)

        Actually, when it comes to metadata, you could make a First Amendment case: freedom of association.

        Indeed, and, in fact, this is the major argument being made by the ACLU acting on its own behalf in its lawsuit against the NSA over the collection of metadata. It allows the government to determine who its clients are, who are its members, etc. Numerous Supreme Court rulings from the civil rights era make it clear that the First Amendment guarantees the right to associate anonymously. It should also be noted that the First Amendment freedoms are the most protected by the courts. When the government feels the need to do so it MUST MUST MUST as little as possible and only to satisfy its legitimate needs and no farther. The courts call the application of this "strict scrutiny". Because this is a geeky forum, most people here know a way this collection of metadata can be done that protects the identity of the parties. Because this exists, the NSA's collection of meta data is unconstitutional on its face.

        There is no point in arguing that the NSA has a legitimate need to collect metadata from phone companies and ISPs. We don't like it but It has that need, it can demonstrate the validity of that need, and the courts are going to recognize it. But there is a less restrictive way of doing it that would accomplish the same thing and they didn't use it.

      • by gatzke ( 2977 )

        Don't you still have freedom to associate? They are just keeping tabs on whom you associate with.

        I would stick with privacy (which is not in the constitution). Just unreasonable search and seizure AFAIK.

        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          The Canadian Supreme Court has interpreted our (Canadian) right to not be unreasonably searched and seized as a right to privacy.
          I think the 3rd amendment can be interpreted as a right to privacy as well as having someone move in with you screws with your privacy.

        • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

          I would stick with privacy (which is not in the constitution).

          The constitution doesn't bestow rights on citizens; rights are endowed "by the creator". The constitution grants powers to the government and defines its structure, and spying on its citizens (taking away their god-given right to privacy) is not a power that is granted by the constitution anywhere at all.

          Also, see the tenth amendment.

      • by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:25PM (#44930257)

        Citizen you are free to associate with whomever you want, we'll just record who it was, where, when, for how long, and how that compares with previous meetings.

    • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:02PM (#44928047)

      The details are of no interest to anyone in power, but patterns are.

      It has already been made public that huge volumes of email, actual phone conversations are recorded. [] [] []

      And further, the NSA leaks content to local and state law enforcement. [] []

      So the this whole discussion about meta-data is moot. When you can archive, transcribe and catalog content, who needs metadata?

      • Because they don't care what you said. It really is beneath them, even if they have it. We need to be worried about the consequences this will have on people.

        • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:21PM (#44928241)

          But if you had bothered to even give those links a cursory look, you would find that they DO CARE what you said, and if the NSA doesn't personally care, they know agencies that do, and they freely share what they learn.

          The story is fairly straightforward []. A unit of the DEA known as the Special Operations Division has been receiving and distributing vast levels of intelligence from agencies such as the NSA, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security. Upon receiving information about a particular transaction or meeting place, DEA agents go make arrests, using traffic stops as pretext.

          There is nothing "beneath them". In order to hold that view, you have to subscriber to the whole "Defenders of America" flag wrapping nonsense. These agencies have ceased working for YOU.

          You can't worry about the consequences will have on the people, and ignore the fact that some how, somewhere along the line, this government has taken it upon itself to vet every communication, be party to ever conversation, and monitor every action, and watch every person. Where did that idea of government EVER come from?

          • by tqk ( 413719 )

            You can't worry about the consequences will have on the people, and ignore the fact that some how, somewhere along the line, this government has taken it upon itself to vet every communication, be party to ever conversation, and monitor every action, and watch every person. Where did that idea of government EVER come from?

            If you read history, that's always been the tyrant's plan. What you ought to be asking is how did the USA succumb to tyrrany?

            You got lazy, arrogant, self-assured, and lackadaisical about how your country's run.

        • They don't care what you said or who you're talking to right now.

          But let's say you started leading some sort of political movement to dismantle the NSA's surveillance of Americans. Do you think they'd then start to care what you said going back to the day they were able to start monitoring your conversations?

      • by bigfoottoo ( 2947459 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:14PM (#44930199)
        I absolutely agree that they are scooping up EVERYTHING. When the Snowden story first broke, the government story was that they were collecting metadata on 3 billion US phone calls per day. They acted like this was a big deal. But, think about it. Suppose that each metadata entry requires 100 bytes. In this case, they are collecting 300 GBytes of meta data per day. Hell, I can store that much on my laptop! Instead, they are bringing an exa-Byte facility online in Utah, and they are building another giant farm at Ft. Meade. Something doesn't add up. I suspect that the raw data stream goes into the NSA "haystack" where it sits. So when Obama said, "Nobody is listening to your phone calls.", he technically was correct. Your phone calls are recorded, but nobody is listening to them. The voice data sits in the archive until probable cause is established by examining metadata. Once probable cause is established, an analyst gets to listen to everything you have muttered on the phone over the last several years. This retroactive aspect of NSA actions is truely disgusting. There probably are many good people in the NSA. But, there also were many good Germans doing bad things in WWII. Or, what we often did in Vietnam. The NSA, as an institution, seems to dispise the Bill of Rights, and unless this is changed, we will lose our nation.
        • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @09:34PM (#44930317)

          The technology that Google Voice uses, and that Android phones use, and even iPhones use to convert voice to text would allow them to grind away at those recorded conversations and weed out the "Honey pick up some milk on the way home" conversations and dump these to save space.

          Meanwhile any talk of interesting subjects would get added to the text database for searching, and the audio saved.

          Nobody "listened" to that call. But a computer did, and translated it, and cataloged it and made it searchable. And a human will listen to it, and so will the judge and jury any time the government wants to hang you out to dry for getting an ounce of weed, or a stock tip, or any little discrepancy on your taxes.

          Now that these abuses are known, I actually expect to see the data used more often. Because they don't need to worry about disclosing a secret project any more. We will be treated to all sorts of "see how surveillance is good for you" stories cherry picked and praises sung when the meth dealer gets caught or the pedophile gets outed. We are all in for the "Frogs in a kettle" treatment.

          • by Si ( 9816 )

            Until "Honey pick up some milk on the way home" becomes code for "the President will be at [X] on [Y]. Ensure asset [A] is in position.". At that point, even those conversations get handed over to Israel for analysis^W^W^W^W^W^Wstored as metadata "just in case".
            Not that you're wrong about your final point. It's almost as if Snowden was intentional.

    • The fourth amendment protects both. History tells us that we need privacy to freely associate with people. This is more of a neccesity then an original intent. History also tells us that before the US broke away from England, the king and people representing them went on witch hunts regularly. If someone with any power disliked you or you said the wrong thing in front of someone, the would issue a general warrant and some goons would show up and turn your home, place of employment, and friends upside down t

    • From a comment I posted on

      "Clearly the 4th Amendment was not written with any conception of today's electronic communications. We need more specific laws."

      Perhaps. But it might be more to the point to have judges who made it into the electronic age.

      The 4th uses the phrase "search" followed closely by "seizure." If you are forbidden to search for it without warrant its seizure (as in, collection) without warrant is forbidden as well.

      I like the tree-mail analogy, especially because it mi

  • Big Data (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @04:47PM (#44927877)

    The result would be details of what he did: where he went, who he talked to, what he looked at, what he purchased — how he spent his day.

    And with big data hitting the databases of Amazon (and every other retailer you shop), Google, credit cards, banks, credit bureaus, medical information bureau, IRS, .... they can find out just about anything they want about you.

    When you turn off Ghostery, NoScript and AdBlock, it's pretty fucking eerie the ads that are placed on pages - and that's JUST the marketing people. Just image what the NSA can do!

    Yep! Made fun of the Tin Foil hat wearers all those years and we're RIGHT!

    • Re:Big Data (Score:5, Interesting)

      by VortexCortex ( 1117377 ) <VortexCortex AT ... trograde DOT com> on Monday September 23, 2013 @10:41PM (#44930745)

      I recently opted out of Google targeted ads because of the interests it thought I liked. Among them: Women's Issues, Defense and Aerospace, Arts and Crafts, etc. I'm interested in Men's Issues (90%+ workplace deaths are males, 80%+ homeless are men, 40%+ of domestic abuse victims are male, and women are as violent or more so than men [] yet there are only "battered womens' shelters" no men's shelters), I don't really care about Defense just Space (why these are linked in their interests might be to fuzz defense nuts as possible space nuts? Maybe cryptography = defense?), I make inde games as a hobby but could give a fuck less about arts and cratfs... The list goes on and on -- over 20 interests, 5 were half right, the rest were just WAY off base.

      The shit they know is WRONG. And if this is any indication of the power of "big data" (a new buzword for Analytics) then I'm even more wary of what the NSA thinks they can glean from their aggregate bullshit. With the things I research for my fictional writing & game plots, and my outspoken stance on government accountability, anti-war posts, and patent/copyright reform, etc. they probably think I'm a terrorist, when in reality, I would sooner die than kill another sentient being.

      The road to despotism is paved with absolutist notions. Do not try to create absolute security, that is impossible. This complete intolerance for risk is ridiculous and destructive. You have more risk of heart attack or automobile accident than terrorist attack.... The funding should be in tastier health food, not killing brown people and spying on every citizen. Of course the message to the people is one of protection from drummed up threat. The reality is that those doing the spying know their ends can't fit the means; They have completely other set of agendas, and practically have to manufacture offenders to prove they're protecting you. Only thing you could really do with the data on that scale is controlling the world's financial markets. Protip: the CIA and other black-ops are funded not by tax money primarily, but by investments via shell corps...

      You don't have anything to fear, citizen, unless you use uncontrollable currencies, like bitcoins, or develop new cryptographic ciphers, or use untrackable data transfers. []

      Truth is, I live not in fear of terrorists, but in fear of being hit by a bus or disappeared by a black van... I refuse to NOT post things online that could be taken the wrong way. Fuck 'em. Live free or Die, I say, like an American of braver times.

      Additionally, my websites know when you're using Ghostery, NoScript, and AdBlock, or user agent spoofers, fingerprint normalizers, etc. Your use of these damn near perfectly profiles the kind of user you are... I just use the data to serve you the page for a downloadable game instead of the WebGL or flash version, but others could do much more...

      • by Burz ( 138833 )

        Additionally, my websites know when you're using Ghostery, NoScript, and AdBlock, or user agent spoofers, fingerprint normalizers, etc. Your use of these damn near perfectly profiles the kind of user you are... I just use the data to serve you the page for a downloadable game instead of the WebGL or flash version, but others could do much more...

        Yeah, but people using the Tor browser bundle pretty much all look the same.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @04:50PM (#44927915)

    It's gonna take awhile for everyone to get upto speed on this whole 'spying on everyone' thing.
    Heck just 5 years ago if you made the statement 'the goverment is spying on all of us'. You'd get some sort of response involving tinfoil and hats even tho it was 100% true 5 years ago as it is today.

    And now... People are starting to realize it wasn't just crazy tinfoil hat ramblings... Give them some time and they'll wise up. Somewhat...
    Nother 10 years we might be able to even start fixing the problem. But i wouldn't bet on it.

    • by Ralph Wiggam ( 22354 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:09PM (#44928125) Homepage

      Heck just 5 years ago if you made the statement 'the goverment is spying on all of us'. You'd get some sort of response involving tinfoil and hats

      I read this all the time and it's just not true.

      In 2006, the front page of the New York Times detailed how the NSA was copying basically all internet traffic right from the backbone. At the time it was seen as a confirmation of what basically everyone had suspected for decades. Obviously if they were gathering all of that data, they were doing something with it.

    • by Burz ( 138833 )

      It's gonna take awhile for everyone to get upto speed on this whole 'spying on everyone' thing.
      Heck just 5 years ago if you made the statement 'the goverment is spying on all of us'. You'd get some sort of response involving tinfoil and hats even tho it was 100% true 5 years ago as it is today.

      Yes, and we need a name for this kind of person with the very serf-ish, banal, pro-establishment social imagination. Denier seems almost too mild.

    • If you really want to get people to wake up and realize what is happening you need to get to and annoy those in power, request the meta data gathered on your elected representatives, all of them, by filing FOIAs. That will get the politicians up in arms about this and they can do something about it. It might also be helpful to do the same for TV and radio personalities who down play this information collection. Then submit some letters to the editor of local papers announcing this and encouraging others to
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @04:53PM (#44927947)

    In 1979, the US Supreme Court ruled that collection of this metadata did not contitute a search.

    • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @04:59PM (#44928027)
      Actually, while they did say that collecting metadata did not constitute a search, they have never said that putting someone under surveillance was a search either. The police do not need a search warrant to follow you around. In 1979, when the Supreme Court made the ruling in question, the metadata available was no more thorough than a police officer could obtain by following you around. Since that time, things have changed significantly. If a lawyer argued the case correctly, they could convince the court that it could overturn the precedent without having to find that the original ruling was a mistake.
      • by intermodal ( 534361 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:19PM (#44928211) Homepage Journal

        The fundamental difference between this and the Smith case is that the agencies had to do their own recording to accomplish it, as opposed to demanding (and getting, whether coerced, cooperative, or compelled) records. I have been saying for weeks that the most disturbing part of this is that even if your data is handed over by the telcos, you have no recourse because the documents searched were not yours in the first place. Even with the fourth amendment.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:35PM (#44928375)

        The police do not need a search warrant to follow you around.

        They don't need a warrant, but they DO need a reason.

        while they did say that collecting metadata did not constitute a search

        No, that's not what they said. Nowhere was the phrase "metadata" used. What they said was that you did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in regards to the numbers you dialed, because you told the phone company by dialing them. The term "metadata" is not defined legally anywhere, which is why the politicians keep using it.
        You're also ignoring the fact that there are laws specifically dealing with information collected by Telcos. Search the FCC page for "CPNI" if you want specifics, but put simply the phone company is not allowed to disclose your call details to anybody other than you without a warrant or court order.

      • by Tom ( 822 )

        Not only that, but there's also precedent that qualitative differences matter.

        There are many cases where recording something is illegal even though my watching or listening it is perfectly legal, for example.

        The officer following you around might be a similar case, and manual surveillance and database record keeping fall into entirely different legal categories.

      • by Burz ( 138833 )

        The police do not need a search warrant to follow you around.

        This is also the definition of stalking, which a number of states have outlawed. Our police are supposed to heed civilian laws, but this is one of those subjects where they can be shown to be above the law.

    • by ZombieBraintrust ( 1685608 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:18PM (#44928205)
      In 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled that the police needed a warrant to track your car with a GPS. That attaching a device to your car was a trespass.
  • Metadata (Score:5, Informative)

    by LoraxLobster0202 ( 3182609 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @04:53PM (#44927955)
    Metada is as private as the contents is. However, I can't loose the the feeling, that somehow entire debate is being spun as if society "accepts" that metadata does not matter. It matters. The thing is that if existing law would be followed " The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized", then most of NSA would be out of work. The Irony is that one, merely mentioning his rights is automatically classified as potential terroris []
    • "Normal" people can be swayed by a technical-term-sounding difference, because they don't understand the difference. You know them, the sort of people who say "That's just semantics" without understanding that they are saying "That's just the REAL MEANING of the words".
    • problematically, the records are not ours. They belong to the telcos, and the telcos are legally welcome to share them with anyone they please. I'd love to see new protections to the contrary.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:00PM (#44928039)

    The President of the United states refuses to divulge his visitor lists claiming that it might divulge privileged information. This has been going on for years under presidents of both parties. Visitor lists are metadata (who he talked to, not what they talked about). If the president recognizes his metadata is confidential, how can he claim other peoples' metadata is not confidential?

    • because his has their names and other identifying information. Ours is just length of calls to anonymous numbers.
    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      Hey, if he (and his visitors) have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to fear.

      At least that's what the .gov keeps telling us...

      • This is why we as citizens should request the metadata that was collected on all of our elected representatives. It would probably be a like a giant brown note for all of them and something might actually change then.
  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:08PM (#44928117)
    If the NSA collecting metadata on Americans isn't such a big deal then I propose the metadata for all politicians be posted on a publicly accessible website. I'm particularly interested in the phone records between Congress and K Street.
    • Fill out some FOIAs for your elected representatives. I now have a task for tonight and I will be writing to the local papers' letters to the editor sections letting them know that this has been done as it won't matter if no one knows.
  • Does anyone else see the irony in that an article composed entirely of metadata about NSA spying (i.e. explanations of the implications of the data, rather than new data) is pointing out how harmful metadata itself can be?

  • Cell information is basically location data. They may not collect what your talking about, but they do know where you were.

  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:19PM (#44928217)

    Traffic analysis [] is the process of intercepting and examining messages in order to deduce information from patterns in communication. It can be performed even when the messages are encrypted and cannot be decrypted. In general, the greater the number of messages observed, or even intercepted and stored, the more can be inferred from the traffic.

    The primary filter has always been traffic analysis. It constructs the social graph []. I've heard that's worth something. An otherwise valueless company seems to trade on it.

    Traffic analysis is what one can do effectively on a perversive scale. It puts the "focus" into focused intelligence, which would otherwise amount to extracting needles from haystacks concerning the detection of novel threats. Indeed, often the forest is worth more than the trees. The bits of business of an individual life are often less easy to read than a person's extended social footprint.

    Fu..hrermore, in an electronic society where six degrees of separation is an overestimate by half, is there anyone in the population less secluded than a junior wife in a Mormon splinter town who couldn't be painted as a threat for having crossed digital paths with at least three shady characters over three decades of normal living?

    The social graph colours all nodes. Does anyone think that members of the judicial oversight committee are required to bone up on Turing's use of log probability to establish meaningful discrimination thresholds?

    Consider the four principal categories of metadata:
    * who
    * what
    * when
    * where

    Looks harmless to me. What goes under "why"? Anything their little minds decide to write down.

    Who: public school teacher
    What: google search for "pressure cooker"
    When: yesterday
    What: google search for "backpack"
    When: day before yesterday
    Where: domestic residence, Springfield

    Yet again, the metadata paints a compelling picture: moral turpitude. What could be more obvious among a law enforcement community prone to the syllogism that "I don't like the look on your face" equates to "disturbing the peace".

    Checks and balances? Guess what? Metadata signs all cheques.

    • Your "whats" aren't metadata, those are data. The metadata would be just the URL of the site you visited. Of course with the the web your metadata often contains data so it's hard to separate the two, but this whole metadata thing was about phone records anyway, so the point is moot.

  • by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:21PM (#44928237) Homepage Journal

    the metadata is how we figure you out.

    the data is just the evidence when we finally put you in jail for thoughtcrimes.

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      You better doublethink that buddy.

      The metadata is necessary for the furtherance of the war effort.

      The data itself is a flexible as we rewrite it to be.

  • by wjcofkc ( 964165 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:23PM (#44928261)
    Metadata can be abused as an ambiguous term, as we are seeing the NSA doing. I would like to hear the NSA definition of metadata in clear, no uncertain, and thorough terms. They are peddling the term to a populace that hasn't realized that by and large, they themselves don't know what it means. By saying "it's just metadata" that seems to be enough for much of the population to think what they are up to is benign without even knowing what it is, and I really don't understand why.
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:40PM (#44928437)

    Metadata or not, here's the way I figure surveillance, espionage, wiretapping, etc.: If I can collect the data on some government officials and sell it to the Russians, Chinese, or North Koreans, its OK for them to collect it on me.

  • It's a bad example, you can see who you are following, metadata is blind, it does not know anything about the specific person, it just indicates patterns.

  • Never yield (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @05:49PM (#44928549) Journal

    Politicians stole the word "metadata" from computer science, and declared it on-limits for warrantless spying. This is a sophistry, invented out of whole cloth.

    The king of England would have used phone metadata to round up the Founding Fathers in quick order. Therefore government doesn't get to do this.

    Stop government from building the tools of tyrrany to begin with. That is the meaning of the Constitution.

  • by jasno ( 124830 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @06:18PM (#44928865) Journal

    I feel like what needs to happen is for all of us geeks to get off our collective asses and start companies which openly, agressively track people and sell that data to the public. For instance, start tracking license plates. Make the database searchable for $10 per query. Advertise it. Scare the hell out of people. Only then will enough calls make it to congressional phone lines.

    • by dbc ( 135354 )

      Good idea. All it would take is a reference design that can capture and upload license plate information, and contains the letters "duino" in its name. It will be an overnight sensation, mainly because of the "duino" part, but in any case I'm sure lots of folks would pay $10 to know where all their city's police cars are at the moment.

  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:13PM (#44929773) Homepage Journal

    This won't be a popular perspective, but I agree that metadata is not data.

    It's like collecting the "from" addresses on the mail delivered to your door without opening the envelopes. They're not steaming open your letters, so it's legal.

    The problem is that "legal" isn't necessarily moral. Especially given the sheer volume of meta data generated by the average internet-connected humanoid in modern times.

    For one thing, I keep in touch with far more people and places using email than I ever did using snail mail. I used to get maybe 3-4 letters a year, a few magazines, and anonymous junk mail when I relied on snail mail for communications. In the electronic age, I keep in touch with several dozen friends, get newsletters from vendors and sometimes click on the links to read the articles they've published or subscribe to the online training they've offered, I broadcast emails to groups of friends (something I couldn't do with snail mail at all), and generally am far more connected via email alone than I ever was by snail mail or phone calls.

    Add in the browsing meta data, and you start to get a painfully clear picture of my likes, dislikes, interests, and associations without ever diving into the details. When you consider that the NSA, CSEC, GCHQ, and others track not only my direct interests but n levels of indirection, and I end up associated with all kinds of distasteful figures that I'd never willingly associate with in real life, much less send a snail-mail letter to.

    The only saving grace is the needle-in-a-haystack problem. The more meta data they collect, the bigger the haystack and the harder it is to find the needles buried within.

    And the number of mass shootings and bombings in the US and around the world just proves that point. I've not seen it broadcast that they arrested anyone other than the VIA train plotters in Canada to date.

    One instance where surveillance did what it should. Versus dozens of instances where it failed abysmally.

    • by msobkow ( 48369 )

      As to the phone, in the internet age I call even fewer people than I ever did before. I've got maybe 4 friends I hear from throughout the course of the year by phone, other than that the only people I talk to are relatives and pollsters. So for me, personally, the CDR collection isn't a big deal.

    • >This won't be a popular perspective, but I agree that metadata is not data.

      You may view this merely as pedantic, but... metadata is data. Data about data. Thus the "meta".

      It's just not considered "personal" data, just as you described.

  • by OldSport ( 2677879 ) on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:39PM (#44929975)

    ...than listening to calls in detail. Crappy bitrate audio of conversational speech is very difficult to analyze with voice recognition, etc. However, simpler digital data can be churned through massive datacenters and with ease, resulting in detailed dossiers on anybody with a cell phone (which is everyone these days). People don't seem to realize just how much info can begleaned from metadata. Shit, I'm on the paranoid side an I bet I would be shocked by the info the NSA probably has on me.

  • The NSA stores all encrypted communications until they can decrypt them -- How do you determine that (parts of) a call or communication is encrypted without downloading and processing the actual content of the connection?

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger