In the weeks since Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald broke the news about the NSA’s secret surveillance programs, there’s been a lot of talk in the media, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere about “metadata.” What that talk has revealed is that not everyone understands what metadata is and why it’s important from a privacy perspective (of course, some people understand metadata but suggest there’s nothing to worry about).
To clear up what she describes as some of the “myths” about metadata, Ontario’s Information & Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian published a report earlier this month titled “A Primer on Metadata: Separating Fact from Fiction.” Dr. Cavoukian is probably best known as the founder and chief evangelist of Privacy by Design, a framework which advocates embedding privacy protections into product development and business practices from the outset to give users more control over their personal data.
In her new report, she makes the case that metadata may be more revealing than content itself. Some government officials have tried to downplay the importance of the NSA’s metadata collection, for example, by explaining that it doesn’t allow the government to listen in to what you’re saying on the phone. However, as Dr. Cavoukian and other privacy advocates argue, metadata that includes the numbers you call, when those calls are made, how long they last, and your phone’s interaction with cellphone towers can be used to create a detailed picture of where you spend your time, what you do and whom you interact with.
It was announced today that the White House declassified a secret court order that explained the “rules and rationale for the bulk collection of U.S. phone records” and that information is expected to be made public tomorrow during a Senate Judiciary committee hearing at 6:00am PT. We’ll be discussing the impact of these government surveillance programs on privacy and consumer trust at this year’s Privacy Identity Innovation conference in Seattle, September 16-18.
Here’s a brief video by Dr. Cavoukian explaining the metadata report, and you can download the full report at www.privacybydesign.ca/content/uploads/2013/07/Metadata.pdf.