By simply looking at a computer screen, it has the ability to track her people’s familial, political, professional, and religious associations. Does this statement sound like a line from a cheap science fiction book written by a paranoid author? Unfortunately, “it” already exists. This entity is the United States Government’s National Security Administration. (Rubenfeld) Through programs codenamed Prism (Edward Snowden), Dishfire, and Prefer, the National Security Administration (NSA) has the ability to collect and analyze massive amounts of metadata from cellphone calls and automated texts. (Ball) Is this loss of privacy worth the benefits of an increasingly knowledgeable government? Unfortunately, there are far more negative consequences of any government tracking her people than positive ones.
On June 5, 2013, Edward Snowden, a contractor of Booz Allen Hamilton working for the NSA would become famous for leaking information to the Guardian about some of the NSA’s programs that he had discovered while working at their Oahu, Hawaii office. These programs, most famously Prism, allow the NSA to collect information about American citizens from their cellphones. Edward Snowden left a $200,000 dollar salary and was charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence with an unauthorized person. Why would Edward Snowden believe that leaving a comfortable lifestyle was worth leaking this information? Snowden’s answer was, “I’m willing to sacrifice [my former life] because I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom, and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.” Whether Snowden’s actions were right or done for noble purposes is debated, but the question still remains: why is the collection of metadata so important? (Edward Snowden)
To understand why metadata collection is important, one must first understand what metadata is. Metadata, data that describes other data, can be many things. (Rouse) In the case of cellphone calls, metadata reveals who called whom and when. This is the kind of information that Prism has been notorious for collecting. (Blaze) But again, phone call metadata is not the only type of metadata. Dishfire and Prefer, two lesser known NSA programs, have collected an average of 194 million automated text messages daily. Prefer analyzes this information that is collected from automated text messages such as missed call alerts, roaming charge alerts, and financial transaction alerts. (Ball)
The true danger of metadata is the popular naïve belief that metadata is not very revealing. In a recent article by Matt Blaze, he stated:
“Unlike our words, metadata doesn’t lie.” Also, “metadata is our context. And that can reveal far more about us –both individually and as a group– than the words we speak… Context yields insight...