NSA and metadata: How the government can spy on your health, political beliefs, and religious practices.

Even if their access is only restricted to metadata, the government can still learn a lot about us we might not want them to know, say Dahlia Lithwick and Steve Vladeck in NSA and metadata: How the government can spy on your health, political beliefs, and religious practices.



Though most people might think that the information about our information doesn't ultimately reveal that much information about us, Lithwick and Vladeck point out how using data on phone numbers, call durations, call timing, etc. can actually paint a pretty detailed picture without a bit of actual phone-call content. Paraphrasing Princeton University Professor Professor Edward Felten, they explain:
By analyzing our metadata over time, the government can separate the signal from the noise and use it to identify behavioral patterns. The government can determine whether someone is making lots of late-night calls to someone who isn’t his spouse, for example. When those calls cease, the government might reasonably conclude that the affair has ended. Metadata may reveal whether and how often someone calls her bookie or the American Civil Liberties Union or a defense attorney. And by analyzing the metadata of every American across a span of years, the NSA could learn almost as much about our health, our habits, our politics, and our relationships as it could by eavesdropping on our calls. It’s not the same thing, but the more data the government collects, the more the distinction between metadata and actual content disappears.
If you extend this from telephony metadata to Internet metadata, they argue, the recent revelation that the NSA is feasting on all the data behind our data should be met with more than "a fatalistic shrug."

They make a good case, but my issue with privacy concern always comes back to one thing. I can't help but think that the growth of social media has generated a cultural shift in our expectation of privacy that we still don't fully understand. The same way we still don't understand exactly how to manage privacy on Facebook, we don't know how to react to these revelations that our privacy is being invaded.

Should we post that embarrassing picture for everyone to see? Should we be upset if a potential employer judges us based on that photo? Should we feel invaded if the government knows what we search for? Should we click yes to share our searches with friends? Should we remember to turn this feature off when we're searching for porn?

The questions may be different, but at their roots they're all tangled in the same quandary: What is privacy in the Internet age?


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