posted at 11:06 am
on Jul. 9, 2013
Lessons Learned in the Morning
The Half-Assed Marathon Commitment
So, the NSA has been taking millions of records about who is calling who, and from where, and when, and for how long. I think this is atrocious.
But I want to talk about one particular new weasel word: metadata. I know there are some technical definitions of it, but in its current use, it’s being stretched to cover something that it’s not, and I wanted to get one idea about metadata clear: metadata is a type of data. It can also be called data—depending on what you’re using it for.
Data, really, is just information you’re looking for (like droids? ) and metadata helps you find it.
If I want to email my friend, her email address is the metadata I need to send the email; it’s not the contents of the message that I want to send—that’s the data. On the other hand, if I want to give my friend’s email address to my sister—the email address is the DATA—it’s what I’m actually looking up, it’s the thing my sister wants.
Metadata, by comparison, is the data that helps you find the information you’re looking for. It’s a signpost. It helps you organize and understand the data you want. It’s the stuff kept in the card catalogue, instead of the words in the book you want to read. And some data is JUST metadata—I can’t write a paper based on the information in the card catalogue; I need the actual data that I’m looking for.
But that’s not the case with the information the NSA is collecting. For the NSA to say that they’re just taking metadata—it’s completely false. The records about those millions of phone calls: that IS the data they want, that IS the data they are using; it has value in itself and it reveals details and it can be useful and necessary—in fact, they keep claiming that it’s so critical that even revealing that they are collecting it is going to compromise its effectiveness.
Later, when the NSA goes and gets MORE data (i.e. the content of phone calls or the intercepts of text messages or emails or whatever), that’s additional data, and at that point, the data about the calls they already have, becomes metadata they can use to look up other data—but that’s a second stage, a transformation, of the data they have into metadata for more information they’ve collected.
No, the fact is, the NSA is collecting huge amounts of DATA. And using it in its own right, to guide their investigations and reveal important things to them. So calling it okay to collect because it’s just metadata is simply wrong, and a red herring.
Enter your email address:
It will NEVER be shared.