Then-Senator Biden (D-Del.) argued that metadata is “very, very intrusive” to the privacy of Americans and asked what may be the single most important question about National Security Agency domestic spying in light of the revelations facilitated by Edward Snowden.
Here’s what Biden said (emphasis ours):
“I don’t have to listen to your phone calls to know what you’re doing. If I know every single phone call that you made, I am able to determine every single person you talked to. I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive.
And the real question here is: What do they do with this information that they collect that does not have anything to do with Al Qaeda?
And we’re going to trust the president and the vice president of the United States that they’re doing the right thing? Don’t count me in on that.”
For precisely the reasons Biden describes, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the government for collecting the information in the first place, arguing that the bulk collection of phone metadata is unconstitutional because it “gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious, and intimate associations.”
As this interactive graphic shows, phone metadata can map out someone’s movements and communications.
Biden’s subsequent question — “What do they do with this information … that does not have anything to do with Al Qaeda?” — is highly relevant right now and critically important, given that the domestic surveillance program is ostensibly so that U.S. authorities can uncover and neutralize terrorism plots.
However, the NSA has built a $2 billion data centre in Bluffdale, Utah to store and analyse reams of data of innocent Americans, and the cozy public-private partnership between the NSA and tech companies raises questions about how the data is being handled beyond terrorism cases.
In March the CIA’s chief technology officer (CTO) told a tech conference that “data scientists” working for the spy agency build the tools needed to analyse the ocean of info, but doesn’t say what is done with the end product.
“Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever,” CIA CTO Ira “Gus” Hunt said. “It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information.”
(h/t reddit user hypervigilants)
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