When the government collects metadata on people, the government puts them under surveillance. When the government collects metadata on the entire country, they put everyone under surveillance. When Google does it, they do the same thing. Metadata equals surveillance; it’s that simple.
When the news started circulating I was of course outraged, but as a sysadmin that little voice in the back of my head wasn’t all too surprised. Both at what the NSA is alleged to be doing and at Edward Snowden’s level of access. Since the commercialization of social networking, I knew there is no such thing as a free lunch and all that is posted is sifted through and analyzed for value, would be of great interest to governments. In an interview with The Verge, Chris Soghoian’s use of the quote, “if you build it, they will come,” gave me a smirk as it’s a great explanation.
This push for some perfect state of security and safety with a seemingly blind faith in the ability to data mine and perceive patterns in all this data disturbs me. The algorithms developed are just mathematical models, simplifications of the real world and as such are based on assumptions. Assumptions that can be wrong or the basis for making such assumptions can change over time. Also by its very nature, models cannot take everything into consideration nor is it always advisable to condense such vast data into simple numbers. Our current economical troubles are a great example of the blind faith put in such models.
Back to the second thoughts in my head, it’s not just this breach of trust that my privacy be respected, it is also how this news will affect our place in the world. Europe takes privacy possibly more serious then we do and as reported, is very bothered by this news. Will they take their business elsewhere if they cannot trust their data is safe from widespread snooping? Will businesses leave the US so they cannot be compelled to participate in these programs? Or worse yet, will their be a stronger push for relinquishing control of the Internet to the UN? Or even lead to a splintering of the Internet? I cannot even begin to answer these questions and that worries me as the future of a free and open Internet is possibly at stake.