Former CIA and NSA Director: “We Kill People Based on Metadata”
At a recent panel debate at the Johns Hopkins University, the topic of metadata was discussed. The panel members were Georgetown University Law professor David Cole, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, and White House correspondent extraordinaire Major Garrett. Metadata is “data about data;” for phones, metadata includes the who, what, when, and where of your cell phone call without caring about the why. The who and when metadata can then be combined to accurately track how often calls are made between any two parties.
Of course knowing the content of a call can be crucial to establishing a particular threat. But metadata alone can provide an extremely detailed picture of a person’s most intimate associations and interests. and it’s actually much easier as a technological matter to search huge amounts of metadata than to listen to millions of phone calls.
Metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.
After both pieces were brought up in the debate, Former director of the NSA and CIA Michael Hayden stated:
David’s description of what we can do with metadata, according to our mutual friend Steward Baker, is absolutely correct. We kill people based on metadata… but that’s not what we do with this metadata.
The General quickly qualified his statement by suggesting that only non-US citizens’ metadata was used in this way. However, many in the constituency still feel that the mere potential unconstitutional abuse of the NSA’s domestic metadata database should obviously be under more scrutiny. Especially given the ways that the NSA has been shown to use metadata.
In a previous report leaked by an unnamed NSA drone operator which was also corroborated by Snowden’s leaks, it was revealed that cell phone metadata such as calls made and received and geographic location to determine targets. These moves are made without any human factor to confirm a suspect’s identity. The unnamed drone operator said:
People get hung up that there’s a targeted list of people. It’s really like we’re targeting a cell phone. We’re not going after people – we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy.
The USA Freedom Act has made it through the House of Representatives and does represent a push back to the NSA’s metadata collecting powers. However, the legislation, which was held up in Senate, only prevents the NSA from viewing US citizen metadata without a warrant that is granted by a secret court, and does not offer protections to foreigners abroad or within America. As the world’s understanding of metadata and its potential abuse grows, so should the public awareness of privacy and security. Unfortunately, your metadata is still fair game.
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