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Stanford Students Show That Phone Record Surveillance Can Yield Vast Amounts of Information

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A wireline telephone.

Stanford University researchers contend the U.S. National Security Agency's telephone metadata program can yield significant, detailed information about telephone users.

Credit: Information Potential

The U.S. National Security Agency's telephone metadata program can yield details about the familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations of callers, according to Stanford University researchers.

Metadata is extremely sensitive and can reveal the phone number of the caller and recipient, the particular serial number of the phones involved, the time and duration of calls, and possibly the location of each person.

Stanford Ph.D. students Jonathan Mayer and Patrick Mutchler worked with the phone records of 546 volunteers, matching phone numbers against the public Yelp and Google Places directories to see who was being called. The volunteers called 33,688 unique numbers, and 6,107 (18 percent) were isolated to a particular identity. The researchers crowdsourced the data using an Android application and conducted an analysis of individual calls made by the volunteers to sensitive numbers, connecting the patterns of calls to emphasize the detail available in metadata. They were able to determine that 57 percent of volunteers made at least one medical call and 40 percent made calls related to financial services.

"Phone metadata is unambiguously sensitive, even over a small sample and short time window," Mayer says.

From Stanford Report (CA)
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Abstracts Copyright © 2014 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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