Sunday, February 05, 2006

Free Speech, Privacy, and the War Over 'Metadata'?

Why am I not surprised by this:

According to surveys by TeleGeography Inc., nearly all voice and data traffic to and from the United States now travels by fiber-optic cable. About one-third of that volume is in transit from one foreign country to another, traversing U.S. networks along its route. The traffic passes through cable landing stations, where undersea communications lines meet the East and West coasts; warehouse-size gateways where competing international carriers join their networks; and major Internet hubs known as metropolitan area ethernets.

Until Bush secretly changed the rules, the government could not tap into access points on U.S. soil without a warrant to collect the "contents" of any communication "to or from a person in the United States." But the FISA law was silent on calls and e-mails that began and ended abroad.

Even for U.S. communications, the law was less than clear about whether the NSA could harvest information about that communication that was not part of its "contents."

"We debated a lot of issues involving the 'metadata,' " one government lawyer said. Valuable for analyzing calling patterns, the metadata for telephone calls identify their origin, destination, duration and time. E-mail headers carry much the same information, along with the numeric address of each network switch through which a message has passed.
But then there is the narrative mythology. That is, why are they doing this when they know they cannot analyze all of the data? As Wendy Chun says in "Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics"
This myth also screens the impossibility of storing, accessing, and analyzing everything. [...] These paranoid narratives of total surveillance (control as freedom) and total freedom (freedom as control) are the poles of control-freedom, and are symptomatic of a larger shift in power relations from the rubric of discipline and liberty to that of control and freedom.

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