The term metadata has been added to our lexicon with all the news reports revolving around the June 2013 revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Some pundits are trying to put people at ease by saying that the government is “just” collecting metadata and that the content of your conversations or actions remains private. While the actual fact is that the over a dozen NarusInsight systems installed around the United States sucking in multi-gigabit per second communications are recording the content of your conversations to be permanently stored in the Utah Data Center. But even if they were only collecting metadata, how does that impact you?
You can easily observe in your own life how metadata can be used by what you see going on around you. While you are with any group, such as employment, entertainment, or church, when there is a break or conclusion people grab their cellphones and check texts, messages, or make calls. The metadata that is being collected at those moments is the specific phone, at that time, at a rough idea of the location, and the specific function being performed. Accumulating these little pieces of information and making use of it is called “big data”.
These little pieces of information are not individually reliable, such as it might be you, a family member, or a friend that is using your cell phone for a specific call. However, given hundreds or thousands of these little pieces, a lot can be determined about groups and about you. With big data you can observe these clusters of phone activity happening at once and near each other and make a reasonable assumption that those people have some kind of relationship. Given enough of these little pieces you can build educated guesses of who works together, goes to church together, or is involved in an activist group.
You could then be assigned a score due to these relationships as to how likely you are to have a given characteristic. It is like knowing that if you are a member of a particular church are more likely to be a Democrat or a Republican. If you value your credit score you will do things to make it as high as possible. If you fear your government, you will do things to keep any offensive score as low as possible. You will avoid a political rally stands against the people in power. You will stay clear of any person, place or activity that will raise your score. You will avoid a church that preaches Christ as Lord instead of Caesar.
FOIA requests have reviled that cellphone data is used constantly to find illegal drug activity. So if one person is targeted, it becomes an easy process to find who they might be associated with. The IRS has shown that they will target groups for political reasons. In the interest of “public safety” local law enforcement could setup added speed checks or sobriety checks around high scoring groups. Under the guise of “documented workers” these scores could eventually impact your employment.
Just as thieves have been found because their cell phones were in the locations of a series of robberies, you will be found by the metadata that is collected about you. You have a choice to simply live in fear and submit, or stand and fight on multiple fronts. These fronts include reducing what is collected, reducing centralized authority, and protecting the privacy of you and others.
If you are reading this on your computer from a website or via an email, there is now metadata that connects you to this article. Turning your eyes won’t help. You have a choice to scurry into the corners like roaches exposed to the light or stand tall and proclaim that you will live free. There will be a price you must pay either way.