The emperor and his metadata robe (Diana West’s perfect metaphor)
Being naive about technology definitely can shield one from the realities of just how disingenuous our government’s explanations about NSA surveillance rank. A couple days ago, I posted a piece about this topic where I equated this metadata collection to gigantic “junk mail folders”. A casual conversation yesterday with my son who is a software engineer left me reeling with just how clueless I, along with many other Americans, am. We heard soothing assurances lulling us into believing that everything’s safe, yes, “hey trust us”, because only metadata is being collected and the actual content of private electronic communications remains safely shielded behind this secure wall. Turns out that wall, like most that our government is entrusted to secure, offers about as much protection as our southern border defense. The new surveillance state, justified by the so-called, post 9/11 reality, exists because it’s so easy to dupe technological dummies like me (and millions of other Americans). My son explained that it’s easy to mine information from data, but he added the caveat, “it just depends what you’re looking for”. In an effort to reassure myself that the government wasn’t deliberately lulling us into submission by this “metadata” only explanation, I said, “but it’s complicated and takes a lot of effort to find out the contents that they say are protected, right?” My son smiled at my gullibility and said that he’s very good at mining data, but his skills are small fries compared to the people who do that for a living. So, I asked why this administration seems so uninformed, like in Benghazi, where they came up with the narrative of the lame youtube video caused a spontaneous protest, if they have all this amazing technology to decipher information quickly. My son hinted that might be a human lapse, not a glitch in the technology – sort of telling the boss what he wants to hear or feeding him information that fits his agenda.
This morning I stumbled upon this tidbit of information in a Rick Moran column (here). In 2008 the Obama administration slipped in some amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, called the FISA Amendments Act, which empower the attorney general to access all of your private communications without any prior approval from the FISA court. The Obama administration wrote enough loopholes into this act to stray far beyond any legislative constraints, leading me to the sad realization that this wall of protection for our private communications exists only as a rhetorical flourish to deflect us from asking more questions.
At this point, the more I read trying to understand the terminology, the more I realize that even the terminology exists in a relativist’s utopia. Metadata, means data about data, but even that definition according to Wikipedia, is ambiguous (here). The simplistic analogy that it’s like your phone records, which aren’t considered protected and needing a subpoena to access, seems rather hollow in light of just how much information about your private life can be gleaned from sifting through your metadata. Since most of us remain clueless about the terms, the government feels secure, knowing that telling us “it’s just metadata” will keep us quiet because, we don’t really want to know how exposed we are.
Diana West, a brilliant political commentator, refers to this symptom in her new book, “American Betrayal; The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character (here), as the situation in the children’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (here), where everyone pretends to see the invisible new clothes, except for a guileless child, who shouts out that the emperor is naked. Maybe, metadata is just another set of fine invisible clothes the government has donned to keep us in our place, but hopefully a few brave adults will cry out that they don’t see it . Her Townhall.com columns can be found (here) and her blog (here). West lays out the stakes for our country much more eloquently than I could ever hope to in her latest column No Constitution, No Borders, No USA.