At a recent debate concerning the National Security Agency’s bulk surveillance programs, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden admitted that metadata is used as the basis for killing people.
The comments were made during a debate at Johns Hopkins University, after Georgetown University Law Center professor David Cole detailed the kind of information the government can obtain simply by collecting metadata – who you call, when you call them, how long the call lasts, and how often calls between the two parties are made.
Writing in the New York Review of Books, Cole elaborated (you can also watch his explanation around the 14 minute mark of the embedded video):
“Of course knowing the content of a call can be crucial to establishing a particular threat. But metadata alone can provide an extremely detailed picture of a person’s most intimate associations and interests, and it’s actually much easier as a technological matter to search huge amounts of metadata than to listen to millions of phone calls. As NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker has said, ‘metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.’
“When I quoted Baker at a recent debate at Johns Hopkins University, my opponent, General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, called Baker’s comment ‘absolutely correct,’ and raised him one, asserting, ‘We kill people based on metadata.’”
Hayden paused after making this statement – around the 18 minute mark of the video – and then qualified it by adding, “but that’s not what we do with this metadata.”
Presumably, when Hayden emphasizes “this metadata,” he is referring to the information collected from American citizens. As RT reported in February, the US is already using metadata to select targets for drone strikes around the world.