Metadata: Piecing Together a Privacy Solution

Metadata Piecing Together a Privacy Solution report cover

Imagine the government is constantly monitoring you: keeping track of every person you email or meet, every place you go, every item you buy, and more. And when you challenge them, they claim you have no right to expect this kind of information to be private, so they can collect as much of it as they want, even without a search warrant. Besides, they’re not actually listening to your calls or reading your email, so what’s the big deal anyhow?

Unfortunately, this scenario is more real than imaginary. The NSA, local police, and others have taken advantage of uncertain legal protections for metadata (descriptive information about our communications and activities) to sweep up vast amounts of data about innocent Americans without a warrant. And new technology is demonstrating just how sensitive metadata can be: how friend lists can reveal a person’s sexual orientation, purchase histories can identify a pregnancy before any visible signs, and location information can expose individuals to harassment for unpopular political views or even theft and physical harm.

Our new policy paper, Metadata: Piecing Together a Privacy Solution, examines how outdated laws and new technologies combine to put personal privacy at risk—and highlights efforts to change that. Lawmakers and the Supreme Court both have begun to recognize the sensitivity of metadata and the need to upgrade its privacy protections. This paper proposes a way forward to ensure that sensitive data of any type gets the protection it deserves.

Download a pdf of Metadata: Piecing Together a Privacy Solution.