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Metadata and public expectations

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Westerners pay attention to Snowden’s dissidence because the west has a tradition of paying attention to hagiography of heroes and tyrants, but the uproar over metadata collection is poorly understood in terms of constitutional law, reasonable expectation of privacy, and corporate for service profit. Reports surfaced not long after 9/11 that AT&T had bundled its data transmission with NSA’s collection capability. There was no major concern expressed even by Congressional representatives on intelligence committees once the facts entered the public domain.

There was a good deal on both foreign and domestic fronts to distract attention: the Iraq War, the Katrina disaster, perhaps the sense that the trade-off between autonomy and security was necessary for public safety. Very rarely does anyone step back and look at data in the aggregate between individual and service provider, whether it is a contractual lease between tenant and building owner, a mortgage loan taken out with a home lender, a salary reported to the IRS, filing the appropriate tax forms by the spring deadline. Consider what is handed over to Social Security claims representatives.

Data is a commodity no individual can completely control on their own terms. Default on debt may no longer be a criminal offense, but bankruptcy as a consequence of it creates the unintended negative impact of social immobility. Bad credit ratings deny desire for affluence, the need to display success. Wealth generates financial news and lists. Criticism about the effectiveness of NSA’s telecommunication gathering is relevant, but concerns raised about metadata and consumer protection are far greater in scope than libertarian fear of executive powers eroding civil liberties.

Those liberties have long been traded in for the convenience of amenities for everyone, to borrow a phrase from Google’s Chromebook commercial.


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