The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (or the USA PATRIOT act) was enacted on October 26th, 2001 by president George W. Bush with the intention that the American Government could monitor multimedia use and prevent acts of terror. It was passed shortly after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York City. This article allows the government to view any net traffic that they consider dangerous.
The government does this through the use of “bulk capture” systems. This system can be compared to the way a fisherman uses a large net to capture large amounts of fish. In the same way, the government runs programs that allow it to access large quantities of information. As information is being processed, the government uses key phrases and terms to identify possible suspects of terrorism. Often if an item is marked, or “flagged”, it is sorted into a different virtual location and is further analyzed to assess the threat level of said item. Key phrases that are often marked are: Al-Qaeda, bomb, shooting, embassy, explosive, and torture among others.
Metadata is essentially data about data. Metadata is different from regular data in that it is just pure numbers, no descriptors. It is quantitative data about a person’s usage of a service. Regular data will tell you what an object is. For example, the regular data in a phone conversation would be the actual conversation and words themselves, whereas metadata would be information like which number is being dialed, which number it’s being called from, how long the conversation is being held, what time the user dialed, where the person was being called from, and so on. This allows for the government to view when and where things are taking place without looking at what is going on and allows for them to create and formulate a much more robust and expansive view of the situation through the use of numbers. It allows for a broader view of what is taking place.
Along with this method the government uses pen registers and “trap and trace” systems to obtain metadata. A pen register is technology that collects outgoing metadata and send the data to whoever is requesting it without the user knowing that s/he is being monitored. It is commonly associated with being used on telephones, although recently it has also been used on emails and on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. A trap and trace is another form of surveillance technology that monitors incoming metadata and is often implemented side-by-side with pen registers. These methods are different from other methods of surveillance technology in that they collect metadata instead of collecting content data like a wiretap.
While these methods may seem like very safe and effective procedures of securing information while maintaining national security, there are many problems with the government obtaining large amounts of personal information. The...