Daniel J. Solove is a law professor at George Washington University, the founder of the privacy and data-security training company TeachPrivacy and the author of“Nothing to Hide.”
The disclosure of two secret government surveillance programs — one involving phone records and the other personal data from Internet companies — has sparked debate about privacy and national security. Has the government gone too far? Or not far enough? How much privacy should we sacrifice for security? To discuss these issues productively, some myths must be dispelled.
1. The collection of phone numbers and other “metadata” isn’t much of a threat to privacy.
Don’t worry, argue defenders of these surveillance programs: The government is gathering innocuous data, not intimate secrets. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” President Obama declared. Intelligence agencies are “looking at phone numbers and durations of calls; they are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content.”