Reddit, the user-run social media/news website, regularly hosts “IAmA” sessions (Q&A discussions beginning with “I am a ______. Ask me anything.”) Politicians, actors, activists, journalists, athletes, and professionals of all sorts host the sessions to connect with a broad audience and answer user-contributed questions. Often, techies get involved to talk about trends in security, consumer products, and innovations.
Last week, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, hosted such an IAmA. Ms. Valentino-DeVries is most famous for co-authoring the Journal’s award-winning series on digital privacy, “What They Know.” She took the opportunity to answer questions and provide information regarding data surveillance, the intelligence community, and privacy in the United States.
In the IAmA, Ms. Valentino-DeVries elaborates on several important technology trends. She writes, “Metadata can provide a very clear picture of your life … [and] the government is able to access or take much of this information.” The journalist speaks about the balance between privacy and fighting against terrorism, the importance of judges and lawmakers understanding the technology they use and affect, legal justifications for collecting metadata, the diversity of responses to data collection across different generations, the extent to which an individual’s location can be monitored, and the growth of databrokers. She also advocates for increasing transparency in the intelligence community, encrypting personal communications and digital information, and contacting elected officials to protest privacy intrusions.
The “Ask Me Anything” session demonstrates several current realities of the American public’s understanding of technology. While some Americans work to remain informed of governmental data surveillance and its impact on privacy, others have remained relatively ignorant of metadata collection and its implications. Further, Ms. Valentino-DeVries’s repeated advocacy for increased transparency and awareness reflects the tendency of many journalists to resist the intelligence community’s collection of metadata and to argue for more transparency and privacy. Finally, Ms. Valentino-Devries’ honest admissions that she doesn’t have many answers demonstrate the fact that even the most informed citizens do not know many specifics regarding data surveillance.