According to former Chief of the National Security Agency Gen. Michael Hayden the U.S. government “kill[s] people based on metadata,” but it allegedly doesn’t do that with the hoard of data collected on American citizens.
Hayden served as NSA head from 1999 to 2005 followed by running the CIA from 2006 to 2009, made the statement early last month during a discussion on the NSA’s illegal domestic and foreign surveillance programs at Johns Hopkins University’s Foreign Affairs Symposium.
“[That] description… is absolutely correct. We kill people based on metadata. But that’s not what we do with this metadata,” said Hayden, referencing to the illegal NSA metadata collection on Americans. “It’s really important to understand the program in its entirety. Not the potentiality of the program, but how the program is actually conducted.”
“So NSA gets phone records, gets them from the telephone company, been getting them since October of 2001 from one authority or another, puts them in a lockbox… and under very strict limitations can access the lockbox,” Hayden said.
He then explained how a number connected to a terrorist could be run against the trove of metadata collected to tip investigators off on potential leads in the name of national security.
“What it cannot do are all those things that… allows someone to create your social network, your social interactions, your patterns of behavior. One could make the argument that could be useful, [or] that could be illegal, but it’s not done, In this debate, it’s important to distinguish what might be done with what is being done.”
According to ABC news, David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center who was Hayden’s foil in the discussion, this weekend wrote in the New York Review of Books that Hayden’s remarks were evidence that arguments from government officials that there is little threat to privacy from metadata collection is “misleading.”
In the April discussion, Cole noted President Barack Obama’s remarks to reporters last June, as media reports based on leaks by from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were just beginning, in which he said, “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls.”
“They are not looking at people’s names, they’re not looking at content,” Obama said then. “But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism.”
Six months later, an expert review panel set up by the White House recommended the government cease the mass collection of metadata on Americans.
“We cannot discount the risk, in light of the lessons of our own history, that at some point in the future, high-level government officials will decide that this massive database of extraordinarily sensitive private information is there for the plucking,” the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies posted in a 300-page report.
The next month, Obama complied, announcing the metadata will no longer be collected by the government, but will still be stored by another entity and could be subject to government review.