The NSA data-gathering "scandal" is being used a proxy for all sorts of other political fights, from Obama Sucks to ending the War on Terror to smearing whistleblowers. But the real scandal is how completely unregulated data gathering is generally. In truth, the NSA didn't go snooping around in the computers of private individuals to obtain metadata. They simply asked for it from the corporations who are gathering it in the first place. Corporations who had less choice in delivering it than you did in providing it. There are little to no regulations on "terms of service" agreements or in what you can be asked to disclose about yourself. The technological revolution in information gathering is changing the nature of what privacy means and who has a rightful claim to it. But the proxy political fight over the NSA is obscuring the real conversation we ought to be having.
Because surely, someone, anyone, needs to be asking about these reams of data and how they are being used. Or why certain data needs to be kept in the first place. For what purpose is AT&T collecting data on my daily movements? Why is my local grocer keeping track of my buying habits? What is really happening when I haven't moved or touched my phone in day or two, yet there it is sending and receiving streams and streams of I-don't-know-what. We need a modern conversation about life in the modern world and what the boundaries are. With respect to privacy, we should be talking about what privacy means in a world where everyone, or just about everyone, is walking around with listening and watching devices. Everyone can spy on everyone else. It is literally to the point of seeing videos published of people secretly recorded having sexual relations in their own homes, making a private moment a global event.
Google is right now developing a pair of glasses that will record anything seen by the naked eye and heard by the ear. They look funky now, but surely a Chinese made copycat will emerge that looks exactly like a normal pair of glasses and activated by a series of winks. What then for privacy? Who will regulate such things if needed? Denigrating leakers or proxy-fighting over political beefs wont solve or give some clarity to life in information age. That new life, and the boundaries between us, our institutions, our commercial society and our government is what we should be talking about.