Are you sure you want to delete this post?
Yes, this is a topic in which we probably don't know all the facts, plus there may be some misinformation being spread by the conspiracy theorists. Nevertheless, people seem to have strong opinions, but perhaps less understanding. I admit to being unsure about the data being gathered, and therefore I have mixed opinions.
First, what is meant by the term "metadata" and what actually is collected? Metadata is supposedly "data about data" or just the identifying data but not the data itself. As I understand it, for phone calls metadata is who you called, who called you, when you called and how long you talked or if the call was connected or went to a voice recorder. No conversations recorded. For e-mails it is the 'to', 'from', 'cc', 'bcc', and IP addresses but no text. The actual surveillance terms used are pen registers and/or trap & trace devices ("pen/trap taps"). Pen registers record the phone numbers that you call, while trap and trace devices record the numbers that call you.
Surveillance Self Defense: "Pen Registers" and "Trap and Trace Devices"
The metadata could apparently also include what websites you browsed and maybe more. According to the above website there are "some reports of the government using pen/trap taps to intercept content that should require a wiretap order: specifically, the content of SMS text messages, as well as "post-cut-through dialed digits" (digits you dial after your call is connected, like your banking PIN number, your prescription refill numbers, or your vote for American Idol)."
So if the NSA is following the law, it identifies a "target" then, with the FISA Court's approval, the NSA can listen in and record conversations in real time...or read e-mails. What is less clear is who is swept up in the phone and e-mail contacts that the "target" corresponded with. That can be a pretty long list of so called "bulk data".
With respect to the proposed FREEDOM Act, Ken Gude, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C in talking with ThinkProgress
states that the "House changed the government’s criteria for collecting information on a unique person or account to broader terms. It opened up the prospect to collect data from more than just specifically identified individuals.”
"As is, the bill allows the NSA and other intel agencies to seize all emails from an email service company such as GMail, every transaction from a particular bank, all calls made in a certain area code...the NSA could ask for records from an entire state. And instead of letting the government home in on communications to and from a suspect, the NSA can collect, keep and use information that’s simply about a target. That could mean a conversation mentioning the target’s name by people who aren’t suspected of criminal activity could be kept for surveillance.
“Yes, it does end the bulk collection of everyone but it does allow for the bulk collection of a subset of everyone,” Gude said. “Even if it was a large group of individuals [under surveillance], they were specific. [As the bill is written,] you can make the limiting factor so broad that you can target a large number of people.”
This seems to be somewhat consistent with what Glenn Greenwald alludes to as existing practices:
National Review Online, July 28, 2013: Greenwald: The NSA Has Trillions of E-mails and Phone Calls
“The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years,” he told host George Stephanopoulos. “And what these programs are are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use. All an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things, it searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered.
That's a major assertion that Greenwald makes via his Edward Snowden connection. But is it true that the actual conversations for every phone call for every American has been recorded for posterity? Or just the "terror suspects" and every contact they made ...and of course with a FISA court order? Or just terror suspects in real time? Or were they doing it and now have ceased?
And as Greenwald asserts, can any low level analyst at the NSA like Snowdown go in and download a phone conversation from a few years back and listen to it...perhaps a neighbor...or a relative...maybe an ex-wife..or a Senator? That seems to be what Greenwald and Snowden are implying. I would certainly believe that they are doing it to selected overseas countries like Iran, but if the NSA is in fact storing every single telephone conversation (trillions of them) of every American citizen then that would appear to be illegal under existing law...or maybe not.
That doesn't seem to be a topic of conversation within Congress or within the FREEDOM Act legislation. That act addresses limiting the "bulk collection of data". I couldn't find what is meant by "bulk collection" but it certainly seems to be much more than the collection of "metadata" for a single individual (target).
The House version of the FREEDOM Act is 118 pages long so I haven't taken the time to read it. Expect the Senate to tighten it up. Anyway, none of the provisions will go into effect until 2015 so we can debate these for quite some time yet. I admit to not knowing or not having confidence in what is supposedly known.
The ACLU supports it as "better than nothing" but will fight to improve it in the Senate version.
Oh well. I guess we'll know soon enough. In the meantime, I'll continue browsing all the Facebook pages of my friends and relatives that like to share their deepest secrets with the world. Ha.