…our metadata in fact tells the government a lot more about us than we might realize, especially when different types of metadata are aggregated together. Consider calls to single-purpose hotlines: NSA collection of our metadata means the government knows when we’ve called a rape hotline, a domestic violence hotline, an addiction hotline, or a support line for gay teens. Hotlines for whistleblowers in every agency are fair game, as are police hotlines for “anonymous” reports of crimes. Charities that make it possible to text a donation to a particular cause (say, Planned Parenthood) or political candidate or super PAC could reveal an enormous amount about our political activities.
I’m glad to see that the issue is receiving more of the legal attention that it deserves. The article emphasizes an important issue, namely, how the new data-mining technology will allow obscure facts to be inferred from seemingly innocuous data, independent of individual human observers. The conversation is certainly advancing. Certainly the first step is making the average citizen aware that the data they think is available about them online is only the tip of the iceberg of the information actually available to a data-miner.
Still, there is a missing piece. None of the mainstream articles on this subject, so far, have talked about how data-mining might obscure from the data-collectors themselves the intrusiveness of their queries. With the kind of automation that is available, it is not hard to imagine an algorithm-developed personal profile being created with information much more intimate than the developers of said algorithms intended. A data-miner ignorant of his domain (or asleep at the switch), might be much more dangerous than any nosey bureaucrat.
At the time being my concern still is more in the realm of science fiction. Nonetheless, I am expecting that it won’t take too long for a major scandal to break where the authorities’ lack of self-awareness about their own intrusiveness will be all-too-obvious. It wasn’t long ago that large-scale accurate digital surveillance was itself science fiction. Technology, especially when automated, has a way of surpassing our own awareness of it.