Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page

So, the NSA has been taking millions of records about who is calling who, and from where, and when, and for how long. I think this is atrocious.

But I want to talk about one particular new weasel word: metadata.  I know there are some technical definitions of it, but in its current use, it’s being stretched to cover something that it’s not, and I wanted to get one idea about metadata clear: metadata is a type of data. It can also be called data—depending on what you’re using it for.

Data, really, is just information you’re looking for (like droids? 😊 ) and metadata helps you find it.

If I want to email my friend, her email address is the metadata I need to send the email; it’s not the contents of the message that I want to send—that’s the data.  On the other hand, if I want to give my friend’s email address to my sister—the email address is the DATA—it’s what I’m actually looking up, it’s the thing my sister wants.

Metadata, by comparison, is the data that helps you find the information you’re looking for.  It’s a signpost. It helps you organize and understand the data you want.  It’s the stuff kept in the card catalogue, instead of the words in the book you want to read. And some data is JUST metadata—I can’t write a paper based on the information in the card catalogue; I need the actual data that I’m looking for.

But that’s not the case with the information the NSA is collecting.  For the NSA to say that they’re just taking metadata—it’s completely false. The records about those millions of phone calls: that IS the data they want, that IS the data they are using; it has value in itself and it reveals details and it can be useful and necessary—in fact, they keep claiming that it’s so critical that even revealing that they are collecting it is going to compromise its effectiveness.

Later, when the NSA goes and gets MORE data (i.e. the content of phone calls or the intercepts of text messages or emails or whatever), that’s additional data, and at that point, the data about the calls they already have, becomes metadata they can use to look up other data—but that’s a second stage, a transformation, of the data they have into metadata for more information they’ve collected.

No, the fact is, the NSA is collecting huge amounts of DATA. And using it in its own right, to guide their investigations and reveal important things to them. So calling it okay to collect because it’s just metadata is simply wrong, and a red herring.


“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?




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