This post from Jason Kottke, which ties together two articles is a fantastic synopsis of the dangers of discarding metadata as just, well, metadata. Perhaps the easiest way to think about metadata is in relationship to people-watching. If you sit in a room full of people, random people, you can very quickly figure things out:
- Who is sleeping with who
- Who is scared
- Who is nervous
- Who has a crush on who
- Who hates who
We pick all of this information up with only seeing conversations happening and never actually hearing conversations. We pick this all up by watching patterns, by watching subtle cues like a touch, or a glance. That’s metadata, not the digital kind, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what the NSA is collecting on people right now.
My larger fear with the collection of this data is not what it may or may not be used to stop, the process by which it may proactively be used, but how it may be used to frame innocent people. It’s the looking backwards that scares me more.
If the government is convinced you aided a terrorist, I bet they can use real metadata collected about you to build a convincing story of your involvement — even if no such involvement occurred. It’s six degrees of Kevin Bacon with a much worse outcome.