As a progressive from the Northeast, it’s not often that I read opinion pieces by Republicans from the Dakotas. But while reading comments on a news site about the whole Nadler/CNET/NSA fracas, an op-ed by a former Republican Senate candidate came onto my radar. And the piece speaks to a topic of increasing relevance in the debate over government surveillance.

In an “I told you so” update for the Rapid City Journal, GOPer Sam Kephart neatly sums up why the massive collection and correlation of metadata about individuals can be as intrusive as—or moreso than—listening into the content of phone calls. Gephart writes:

Our phone calls, GPS locations, emails, audios, videos, photographs, Google searches, Facebook postings, and domestic drone surveillance data are all being recorded for key words and patterns and then electronically “fused” (merged and collated) with a master data file that includes our banking records, credit card charges, travel records, store purchases, etc.

The NSA and other agencies may not yet have perfected the modeling of this personal and demographic data, but with computing and storage power growing exponentially every year, the time is not far off when such data can be correlated and compared to intrude far more deeply into any American’s personal life than just listening into phone calls.

Gephart concludes that while this process is “still evolving technically,” the government’s not-so-secret goal is

to build, over time, a detailed mathematical 3-D model of every citizen’s psychographic patterns for behavior analysis and prediction purposes.
Twenty years ago, one might have laughed off that idea. Now, our leaders have both the capability to achieve the goal—and the premise (All Terror, All the Time) to sell it to Americans who a generation or two ago might have taken to the streets to oppose it.

Add to that the docility of our secret courts and public officials, and there seems real reason to worry about metadata. Even if one believes that there is equal cause to worry about terrorism, the potential for abuse by the tens or even hundreds of thousands of government and contract workers with access to these hidden databases seems enormously dangerous.

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