When reading this week’s articles regarding metadata, I was reminded of the time I first was introduced to the term. It was sometime last year, while watching “Citizenfour,” which chronicles Edward Snowden’s final eight days in Hong Kong after leaking hundreds of thousands of classified US documents that brought to light a massive global surveillance program carried it out in tandem by a handful of the most developed countries in the world. Basically, it seems that every kind of communication imaginable is recorded by the world powers and stored indefinitely.
So how are these programs related to metadata? When 9/11 happened, the NSA didn’t have any answers for the Bush administration. To combat any potential future terrorist threats, an NSA system was created to intercept and store every digital communication, every radio communication, every analog communication that takes place globally. The storing of this data allows users of the system (with top secret clearances) to retroactively search this vast database of communication links based on what Snowden calls “selectors,” or pieces of metadata, “any kind of thing…that might uniquely or almost uniquely identify you as an individual” such as email addresses, IP addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, etc. These are all considered metadata about us. If you put enough of them together, they tell a story that can possibly be used against you. To make it worse, the biggest names in the tech world, the ones whose services we spend most of our time with (like Facebook, Google, Skype, Apple…) are handing all of this metadata over to these central repositories of data.
Check out the below Powerpoint slide of the X Keyscore tool which seems to store public online sessions. At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that they have machine-learning software to automatically sift through all of our incoming metadata and steadily build an ever-growing network of relationships between the data that tell a whole lot about a person’s daily life. Maybe there’s even a database somewhere where each of us have our respective place.
That thought is chilling and makes me think… Does this have any effect on your willingness to converse in the realm of digital rhetoric? And for a better understanding of metadata and their place in online privary, check out this short video…