United States National Security Agency is said to be keeping an eye on its populace’s internet and telephonic activity since 2012. And whole of this activity is taking place in the name of a project named PRISM which was taken up in the name of national security.
This fact came into light when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked this activity out to media in June 2013.
Now comes the main issue and that is, what data does the government has?
US President Barack Obama in mid 2014 clarified to US populace that US government doesn’t keep record of what public is indulging on internet or on phone. But it only keeps a track of Metadata and has been keeping a record of it from the past few years.
So, what is exactly “Metadata” and why is the government accessing it?
For US government, metadata is not what a user types on a device or says over the telephone. But it is rather the footprint that’s let behind. For instance, when a user uses a phone or a mobile, metadata includes the number called, the location from which the call was made, to the location where the call was received and the duration of the call. While surfing, metadata means the IP address, the websites which are being accessed by that IP address and the user name, age and occupation.
Therefore, in general Metadata is widely understood by government officials to include the following-
- Telephone numbers
- The time and length of phone calls
- The internet protocol addresses (IP addresses) of computers from which messages are received or sent
- Location of parties making phone calls
- To and from email addresses on emails
- Logs of visitors to chat rooms online
- Status of chat sites – whether they are active and how many people are participating
- Chat aliases or identifiers (the name a person uses in a chat room online)
- Start and finish times of internet sessions
- The location of an individual involved in communications
- The name of the application someone uses online and when, where and for how long used
What government doesn’t record or what is not metadata?
- The content of a communication such as a phone call or an email
- The subject line of an email
- The content of the discussion in a chat room online (what is said)
- The content of a mobile phone text message (SMS)
- Attachments to emails such as photos or videos
- Web camera transmissions
- Websites a person visits (i.e. browsing histories)
- The name of a website a person visits
- The substance of a person’s social media posts
So, who has the access to metadata now?
Government agencies working for the Federal Government, mainly National Security Agencies are having the access to the collected metadata. UTAH data center, which is one of the biggest data centers in United States and probably in the world was built and dedicated for surveillance in 2014.
Here all the collected metadata is analyzed and under a case of suspicion, the person generating the data is further tracked. Like what is the person’s job basically, what does he/she do on internet or on telephone, with who he/she is in regular contact over phone or via web, what is his/her background, any criminal record and what was he/she indulging on web or phone.
If any kind of suspicious activity is detected, then the law enforcement agencies will arrest that guy for further interrogation. However, this move is only carried out when strong evidence is available and on the nod of the political authority of that region.
Who retains the metadata other than NSA?
Other than NSA and its UTAH data center, the metadata has to be retained by telephone and internet service providers for the minimum time period of two years.
Note- If any suspect is arrested based on the data, then NSA will save that suspects telephone and internet access data in its UTAH data center for a period of 5 years or till the suspect is prosecuted further.