The first is from Susan Landau, a computer engineer formerly with Sun Microsystems, on how intrusive government possession of phone meta-data can be:
[F]or example, if you call from the hospital when you’re getting a mammogram, and then later in the day your doctor calls you, and then you call the surgeon, and then when you’re at the surgeon’s office you call your family, it’s pretty clear, just looking at that pattern of calls, that there’s been some bad news. If there’s a tight vote in Congress, and somebody who’s wavering on the edge, you discover that they’re talking to the opposition, you know which way they’re vote is going.
One of my favorite examples is, when Sun Microsystems was bought by Oracle, there were a number of calls that weekend before. One can imagine just the trail of calls. First the CEO of Sun and the CEO of Oracle talk to each other. Then probably they both talk to their chief counsels. Then maybe they talk to each other again, then to other people in charge. And the calls go back and forth very quickly, very tightly. You know what’s going to happen. You know what the announcement is going to be on Monday morning, even tho
More Intrusive Than Eavesdropping? NSA Collection of Metadata Hands Gov’t Sweeping Personal Info
I could think of a couple of alternative hypotheses in both of those cases, but a little digging, particularly in the second case, would reveal pretty clearly that Ms. Landau's company was about to be bought out. Meta-data may not mean much on its own, but combined with other information it can be very revealing.
She also notes in that Democracy Now interview that cell phone calls can be used to find out where you are, or have been.
The other quote is from Richard Clarke, former terrorism advisor to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush:
I am troubled by the precedent of stretching a law on domestic surveillance almost to the breaking point. On issues so fundamental to our civil liberties, elected leaders should not be so needlessly secretive.
The argument that this sweeping search must be kept secret from the terrorists is laughable. Terrorists already assume this sort of thing is being done. Only law-abiding American citizens were blissfully ignorant of what their government was doing.
Secondly, we should worry about this program because government agencies, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have a well-established track record of overreaching, exceeding their authority and abusing the law. The FBI has used provisions of the Patriot Act, intended to combat terrorism, for purposes that greatly exceed congressional intent.
Why you should worry about the NSA
With all the references to it in popular entertainment that originates in the US, it's hard to believe that international terrorists don't assume this already. They certainly remember that the Bush Administration did similar things after 9/11. If they don't realize this by now, they're probably not that much of a danger.
Afterword: As this article notes, back in 2006 then-Senator Joe Biden knew how sensitive telephone meta-data could be.