Posting to Autocat
Connected with this leak is a more general discussion of “metadata” and some of the frightening implications it has. While the government says that it does not get the “content” of the information, they do get the “metadata”. (http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/06/07/18824941-obama-nobody-is-listening-to-your-telephone-calls?lite) We can see this metadata easily in emails, where there is the “body” of the message (which apparently is untouched by the government) while the “To” “From” “CC” “Subject” “Date” and *all kinds of other information* is available.
In this regard, there was an interview on DemocracyNow with Jacob Appelbaum (one of the creators of the Tor project)
(the transcript is at) http://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/5/court_govt_can_secretly_obtain_email and he makes a very subtle point that perhaps has more meaning with the events surrounding the NSA leak. He said: “And so, I think it’s important to stress: Metadata in aggregate is content.”
He goes on to explain: “What that means is that if you look at one event, that I talk to you via email, in theory, that we talked is a piece of metadata. The content—that is, what I wrote in the email—that is, in theory, protected, and you need a search warrant for it. But if they know that I talk to you every single morning, that tells a story, maybe even, you know, a really important story. And maybe if they see that I talk to Dan or they see that I talk to other people, that also tells a story that is equal to content when it’s viewed in an aggregate”
Political aspects aside, this is what “data mining” and much of “linked data” is all about. Someone may go to a grocery store and a book store. No big deal. But if you often go to the grocery store at the same times as when some “person of interest” to the authorities goes to the grocery store and then go to the book store at the same times as another “person of interest” goes to that book store, then it tells a story. What kind of story does it tell? It could be just a coincidence because those happen to be the hours you are off work, or that you are romantically interested in someone at one of the stores and those are their times of work, or there could be thousands of other reasons. In any case, I think Appelbaum is entirely correct: Metadata in aggregate is content. (Or at least, it can be)
This is what I have learned about metadata. People are intensely interested in it–but these are the types of metadata that is of interest. Not bibliographic metadata. Still, I think librarians, and especially catalogers, could make some important contributions to the larger realm of metadata.