Sorry for that Lucasian cliché. But as Katherine Mangu-Ward writes at Reason, “There Is No Way To Write A Punchy Headline About Metadata:”
When you write in Microsoft Word, record an audio file, take a photo, or otherwise digitally create stuff, you’re also creating metadata—a bunch of information about who, what, when, where, and how that adheres to your data.
A ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court yesterday means that from now on the metadata of public records is now part of that record, and has to be handed over in response to a public information request. The original Arizona case concerns a police whistle blower, who suspected that bad performance reviews had been created after the fact in the digital personnel files to justify his demotion. The department refused to hand over the data about the creation of those records, but now the court has ruled that they must.
Transparency advocates are excited about the ruling, because—among other things—metadata has been useful in revealing the influence of lobbyists and other special interests on the legislative process:
One of the most famous metadata lobbying goof-ups occurred in 2004, when Wired busted California Attorney General Bill Lockyer circulating an anti-P2P [peer-to-peer filesharing] letter that, after a look at its Word metadata, appeared to have been either drafted or edited by the [Motion Picture Association of America].