Governments and corporations gather, store, and analyze the tremendous amount of data we chuff out as we move through our digitized lives. Often this is without our knowledge, and typically without our consent. Based on this data, they draw conclusions about us that we might disagree with or object to, and that can impact our lives in profound ways. We may not like to admit it, but we are under mass surveillance.
Much of what we know about the NSA’s surveillance comes from Edward Snowden, although people both before and after him also leaked agency secrets. As an NSA contractor, Snowden collected tens of thousands of documents describing many of the NSA’s surveillance activities. Then in 2013 he fled to Hong Kong and gave them to select reporters.
The first news story to break based on the Snowden documents described how the NSA collects the cell phone call records of every American. One government defense, and a sound bite repeated ever since, is that the data they collected is “only metadata.” The intended point was that the NSA wasn’t collecting the words we said during our phone conversations, only the phone numbers of the two parties, and the date, time, and duration of the call. This seemed to mollify many people, but it shouldn’t have. Collecting metadata on people means putting them under surveillance. (more…)