The Importance of Metadata Collection


Terrorism is on the rise. More and more attacks happen every year and our liberties are in jeopardy. In an effort to protect our lives and keep the peace, it is up to the government to devise tactics to keep us safe in the digital age. Collection of metadata on domestic and foreign threats is essential for the protection of Lady Liberty’s children. The United States Government should be allowed to collect metadata for the safety of the American people. Metadata collection is supported by the Constitution of the United States and the Courts, is important for the safety of the free, and promotes patriotism. 

Metadata is a collection of data that gives information about other data and has been an issue discussed in American politics since the 1979 court case Smith v Maryland. Leading up to Smith v Maryland, Smith had attacked and robbed a Miss Patricia McDonough and continued to plague her by calling and threatening her. Consequently, the police went to the phone company and installed “a pen register at its central offices to record the numbers dialed from the telephone at [Smith’s] home” (Ramirez 492). The police used the number collected to arrest Smith for the robbery and harassment of Miss McDonough. Smith sued the state of Maryland for the invasion of his privacy under the 4th amendment for tapping his phone without a warrant. However, once the case reached the Supreme Court, the Court decided in favor of the state of Maryland. Majority leader, Supreme Court Justice Harlan, reference Katz v United States which “held that the Fourth Amendment applies when a government invasion “violate[s] the privacy upon which [an individual] justifiably relied.” (Ramirez 494). The combination of these two cases created the third party doctrine; the third party doctrine allows the government to avoid getting a warrant by accessing your records through a third party like a cell phone company. Third party doctrine has been used by the Supreme Court since to justify many unwarranted searches done by the FBI and police to catch dangerous criminals. However, following each case, more agreements and laws were put in place to limit the scope of these searches. For example, Carpenter v United States 2018 solidified the third party doctrine. If you hand over information over to a third party without a privacy agreement, you can not expect that privacy to be kept. Even though new laws have been created to protect privacy, your location on your phone and many of your phone calls can be pulled by the FBI without a warrant.

There have been many points in US history where safety has taken the forefront of American politics following terrorist attacks and war. The clearest example of the need for safety follows the 9/11 terrorist attacks. President Bush sprung into action to protect American soil by proposing and passing the Patriot Act of 2001. The Patriot Act created a “sound effort to provide new tools for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to combat terrorism while preserving the civil liberties of individual Americans” (Podesta). Bush’s administration created the Patriot Act to save Americans and give authorities the tools they needed to stop future attacks on US soil. Under the Patriot Act, the lines of domestic and foreign surveillance were blurred allowing the NSA and FBI to more closely monitor both citizens and noncitizens living on American soil. The rulings of both Katz v United States and Smith v Maryland, and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F1SA) of 1978 supported government wiretapping of foreign and domestic threats without repercussions. To keep the Land of the Free safe, the Bush Administration passed the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA)... that permits the government to collect intelligence on non-U.S. persons located abroad by conducting targeted surveillance” (Adams 402). The purpose of these laws are meant to keep Americans safe and protect their sovereignty. All the acts discussed were designed to watch potential threats and to leave the average US citizen untouched by the government's metadata collection tactics. If you have nothing to hide, then your liberties will be kept safe.

To build upon past acts such as FISA, the Patriot Act, and FAA, the Freedom Act of 2015 was introduced by the Obama Administration. The Freedom Act changed the Patriot Act to “no longer be authorized to collect bulk telephony metadata under Section 215” (Office of the Director). This changed the practice of pen registers to allowing only the telecommuting companies to control all of your communications and internet use. For any government agency to collect your internet use is to use a warrant. However if they receive other information, they can check the information with the telecommunications company without a warrant. The importance of the Freedom Act shifts the focus from watching the domestic theater to the foreign front; the NSA will be tracking foriegn threats to the Land of the Free. As stated on the NSA’s website, their purpose is to monitor “cyber threats [that] come from nation states and other actors who seek to exploit information to gain an advantage over the United States” (National). Although the Patriot Act became obsolete a day before the Freedom Act, there was a two year period where various parts of the Patriot Act had been taken apart by other acts and executive orders. As seen on the site ourworldindata.org, there was a massive spike in deaths due to terrorist attacks from 2012 to 2014. Following the Freedom Act of 2015 and other safety measures, the deaths and atrocities have dropped almost to past lower numbers. As seen by the use of government intervention, American lives are saved by metadata collection on threats.

Acts like the Freedom Act give American’s the chance to exercise their patriotism and first amendment rights. “The Ninth Circuit... believes that the Freedom Act is constitutionally sufficient” (Dallal 2). The courts agree with the President and Congress, we need metadata collection. Metadata collection protects our 4th of July celebrations and Presidents Day. At any given time, the FBI could knock on your door with a NSL, giving you the opportunity to be a patriot. In basic terms, a NSL “permit[s] the government to compel the release of private, individual consumer information from various third-party institutions without a warrant or any other form of judicial order” (Dallal 6). The purpose of a NSL is to give business and corporations the opportunity to prevent violence against citizens. When your country knocks on your door with a NSL, you have the incredible opportunity to increase liberties in the United States. By participating in helping the government, you are preventing terror. 

This idea is not only backed up by the United States Courts, but also the hardest working politicians of this independent nation. Strong woman Nancy Pelosi said in relation to the Capitol Riot, “Security is the order of the day, security of our country, security of our capital which is the temple of democracy, and the security of our members”. If your priorities were similar to the leading politicians, the security of the United States would never be questioned again. Before the January Capitol Riots, there were the Black Lives Matter riots of the summer; millions of dollars of damages were done, civilians and cops were killed, and entire communities were disrupted as reported on ABC news, MSNBC, CNN, Fox, and other news networks. These riots could have been prevented if the FBI and NSA were allowed to monitor more closely domestic threats to the brave citizens of the great United States. According to leading Democrats, there was some knowledge pertaining to the Capitol Riots, however the FBI was not able to act on it due to legal red tape. 

There is a legitimate fear that increased government surveillance will limit freedoms and rights to protest, however it is quite the opposite. Riots are destructive and anti-patriotic; while the “nature of activism, social movements, and protest in the United States”(Heaney 1) are to protect America’s freedoms. The best way to be a true patriot is to allow the government to monitor domestic threats on US soil. Metadata collection protects our first amendment rights and gives us greater freedoms by limiting the damage and outreach that a terrorist cell can do. 

Repeated over and over again, if you have nothing to hide, you are only promoting peace and safety by allowing the government to collect metadata. The government of the land of the free, home of the brave was put in place by our founding fathers to protect us. The Constitution of the United States promotes metadata collection and the safety of the American public. By supporting metadata collection, you are promoting patriotism and well being. The government should be allowed to collect metadata.

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