I have been watching with awe as a lot of powerful men in grey suits explain that the wholesale collection, retention and searching of 'metadata' is a) not the same thing as surveillance and b) perfectly legal.
For instance, here's a former head of GCHQ on Channel 4 News.
Here's what the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has to say:
Hague continued that any information arriving in the UK from the US is “governed by our laws,”insisting that efforts to thwart terrorism did not endanger civil liberties.
"If you are a law-abiding citizen of this country ... you'll never be aware of all the things those (intelligence) agencies are doing to stop your identity being stolen or to stop a terrorist blowing you up tomorrow," Reuters cites Hague as saying.
"But if you are a would-be terrorist or the centre of a criminal network or a foreign intelligence agency trying to spy on Britain you should be worried because that is what we work on and we are on the whole quite good at it," he continued.
The Foreign Secretary stressed that any intelligence gathering was “authorized, necessary, proportionate and targeted,” adding that he personally signed off on GCHQ intercepts “most days of the week.”
What is metadata? If you make a call, metadata is everything except the content. From it, you know who someone is calling, for how long, from what address to what address. Similar material exists for every form of communication, whether it's downloading Angry Birds, making a call or sending a text message.
As our political and security masters say very strongly that this definitely isn't spying or even intrusion, I propose this. Let's all email our MPs and government ministers and ask them to release their own metadata: everything off their phones, iPads, Blackberries and computers. It's all there in GCHQ's servers (and the NSA's). Let's explain that this doesn't impinge on their privacy because it's analogous to the information on the outside of an envelope, as this article explains
For those that still send them, a letter is sent with the content sealed inside an envelope. No one other than the sender and the recipient should know what is contained within. However, the information on the envelope, the To and From addresses and postal code on the stamp, can be freely seen. This information is critical to ensure the letter’s proper delivery.I'm sure my MP, who fully supports the government's approach, will be happy to make his metadata available. You can contact your own MP here. If they all cough up the material, I'll be assured that metadata really are innocent and nothing to worry about. If not…well, sauce for the goose and all that.
Having come up with the idea, I did a quick search which revealed that one enterprising citizen put in an FoI request for William Hague's metadata. Interestingly, the request was refused because it was
‘solely designed for the purpose of fishing for information without any idea of what might be revealed’.So apparently what's sauce for the goose isn't sauce for the gander after all. The government is collecting all the metadata for all communications events in the UK rather than that of specified individuals or events 'without any idea of what might be revealed' but considers the identical tactic used against them to be, in their words, 'vexatious'. Good job I've a highly developed sense of humour.