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As much as I fear and detest the advent of “network neutrality,” I have to hand it to the people who invented the term. Who could possibly oppose “neutrality”? It will go right past those who don’t look closer that this is a power grab that opens the door to the kind of top-down regulation of content that the FCC imposed (and to some extent still does) on broadcasters.
It’s important to pick your fights, but it’s also crucial to decide what they’re called. When Donald E. Knuth invented “Literate Programming,” he remarked that opponents would appear to favor “Illiterate Programming.”
With the current flap over Hillary Clinton’s apparent use of a private E-mail address to avoid the record retention requirements for government officers doing official business, (which is currently being discussed on several threads here, so I won’t mention it further), I’d like to float a proposal with a name I’ve coined that I believe is as seductive as “network neutrality”: “metadata reciprocity.”
It is now known that the NSA routinely collects and stores “metadata” on telephone calls placed not just to and from locations outside the U.S., but also within the country, between people who are, in the vast majority of cases, U.S. citizens. After an initial flap when this was revealed, few of the most visible figures in the Republican Party, with the notable exception of Rand Paul, seem to have any trouble with this. Neither of Ricochet’s Law Talk professors are opposed to such collection, and both deem it constitutional.
All right—fine—what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Who could possibly oppose “reciprocity”?
If they’re going to collect metadata (date and time, source and destination telephone numbers, duration of call, and possibly location information for calls made from mobile telephones) for everybody, store it on government computers, and use it in ways not disclosed to track the activities of citizens, then should we not have metadata reciprocity? By this I mean that all metadata for calls made by employees of the federal government should be placed in the public domain and made available for anybody to download and analyze in any way they wish. Wouldn’t you like to know who Lois Lerner called during her tenure at the IRS? I would further argue that this should be applied to private telephones of government employees as well; they’re hardly waiving their rights when accepting a civil service or senior executive service job, since the metadata are being collected anyway. It’s just that the data collected are being shared with the people who are paying their salaries.
There would doubtless have to be exceptions for national security. Perhaps military officers of O-6 and above and civilian officials in defense and diplomatic services at GS-15/FS-01 would be exempt, or better, their metadata would only be released after a delay of, say, five years. But then, there aren’t any exemptions for you, are there?
In his 1999 book, The Transparent Society, David Brin argued that “the cameras are coming” and that before long there would be ubiquitous surveillance in all populated areas. The question, he said, was whether the information collected by these cameras would be available only to the state, or to anybody. It is technologically possible to collect metadata for every telephone call, and consequently it’s reasonable to conclude that it will be done. (It will soon be possible, and easy in the Roaring Twenties, to also record the audio of every call that is not encrypted, and I presume this will also be done, if it is not already to some extent.)
Would you rather this information be only available to the state, or that citizens have access to such information for employees of the state?