Metadata Spying Not Covered by the Patriot Act

/ 1 year ago


Edward Snowden. A name that is known in most households, the guy that blew the whistle on the giant listening and surveillance operations being run out of America. However one of these operations, observing and collecting metadata, has been ruled by a federal appeal as having not been authorised by the Patriot Act.

Metadata is described as “data about data”, that is f0r example, if you take a picture on a modern-day phone chances are it will save when the picture was taken, and in some cases where it was (called geotagging). This information is the metadata about the picture, just like author and last person to edit are metadata about a book. The Patriot Act was introduced in America in 2001 and was designed to give the authorities and government agencies the power to combat terrorism.

Today, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the second circuit stated that the collection of metadata regarding telephone usage was beyond “the scope of what Congress has authorized”.  The patriot act has made its way into both real life and fiction as it has been used in both movies and TV dramas to help explain the abilities that law enforcement officials have in regards to combating terrorism. In this instance, the metadata about telephone calls made to and from the United States was recorded, which was considered in breach to the terms which are allowed under the Patriot Act.

Under the Patriot Act the government was issued powers to collect information of a private nature on Americans  as long as it was deemed “relevant” to the investigation, that is to say that they can prove the information or the persons involved are somehow connected to their case and possibly terrorism.

The information included in mass collection included:

  • The length and time of the calls
  • Calling card numbers
  • International Mobile Subscriber Identity number for mobile callers (ISMI)

In regards to this ruling, the main objection is similar to cases all around the world where personal information about people who were proven innocent, or in some cases without accusation, were being obtained and stored.

While found to not be authorised by the Patriot Act the program was not ordered to be stopped as the issue of section 215 of the Patriot Act is due to expire on the 1st of June. With the legislation set for renewal the use of the Patriot Act, both legally and as a reason for illegal use, will no doubt become a hot topic. While the concept of collecting information about innocent people, often used to combat the heavy encryption that people can now use to communicate around the world, will continue to be argued both in America and abroad.

This decision is made only a few weeks after it was rumoured that Government agencies didn’t want ‘backdoors’ into systems (a term used to describe when you go around security features to gain access), and would prefer to have a ‘master key’ enabling them to access systems they wanted access to (such as phone records, social messaging accounts and instant messaging services). It was suggested that this ‘front door’ method would have several locks in place so that only with the cooperation of several groups could the front door be used.

In an age where information is key, protecting your information via encryption and other methods is almost a necessity, but should the government have access to it, even if it restricted or controlled?

Thanks to Arstechnica and The Washington Post for this information.

Image courtesy of Fusionio.

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