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United States Privacy

Stanford Researchers Spot Medical Conditions, Guns, and More In Phone Metadata 193

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-are-your-data dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Since the NSA's phone metadata program broke last summer, politicians have trivialized the privacy implications. It's 'just metadata,' Dianne Feinstein and others have repeatedly emphasized. That view is no longer tenable: Stanford researchers crowdsourced phone metadata from real users, and easily identified calls to 'Alcoholics Anonymous, gun stores, NARAL Pro-Choice, labor unions, divorce lawyers, sexually transmitted disease clinics, a Canadian import pharmacy, strip clubs, and much more.' Looking at patterns in call metadata, they correctly diagnosed a cardiac condition and outed an assault rifle owner. 'Reasonable minds can disagree about the policy and legal constraints,' the authors conclude. 'The science, however, is clear: phone metadata is highly sensitive.'"
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Stanford Researchers Spot Medical Conditions, Guns, and More In Phone Metadata

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  • Reasonable minds? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "Reasonable minds can disagree about the policy and legal constraints"

    Not really. They're infringing upon the constitution and privacy rights. A reasonable mind would always view this as a bad thing.

  • by davecb (6526) <davec-b@rogers.com> on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:15AM (#46472035) Homepage Journal
    Who you are, who you're talking to, where you are, where they are and how fast you're moving if you're changing cells.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:26AM (#46472071)
      It does not matter what it is describing; if it has information in it, it is "data." We should be calling it what it is. It is data about what people are doing. Calling it "metadata" only helps to obscure the issue.
      • by blueg3 (192743) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:47AM (#46472195)

        The holdover of calling it "metadata" is a little odd.

        All metadata is, naturally, data. That's not the odd part; people should know that.

        It's reasonable to call it "phone call metadata". That's what it is. That indicates that it is not the content of the calls, but it's other data about the calls. So in the context of phone calls, it's metadata, because it's not the phone call content itself. Once it's separated from that context, it's just "data".

        Saying "it's just metadata" makes no sense at all, since the "meta-" part give you no information about the data's value.

        • Saying "it's just metadata" makes no sense at all, since the "meta-" part give you no information about the data's value.

          Agreed. Yet that is precisely what Feinstein (et al) are saying.

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:53AM (#46472259)

      For "metadata" read "your entire itemised phone bill". I think the layperson will grasp the implications of giving those to the NSA.

      • by davecb (6526)
        Er, I forget know what's in my itemized phone bill, so it doesn't mean much. My accountant, on the other hand, would freak .
      • by rmdingler (1955220) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:23AM (#46472461)

        For "metadata" read "your entire itemised phone bill". I think the layperson will grasp the implications of giving those to the NSA.

        I would sure like to believe you are correct, but I fear the layperson is much too busy (working to pay bills) to pay attention.

        I do some random informal polling amongst the working class, my people, and even the most cerebrally capable lack either the will or the investment of time necessary to understand they're slowly boiling the water we're all in.

        I am afraid those of us with inclination will have to speak a little louder to cover for our silent brothers and sisters.

      • by bigpat (158134)
        "record of all your phone calls, emails and text messages" is a simpler way of putting it... and at some point we are also going to find out that it means a record of all the websites you visited.
  • Of course... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msobkow (48369) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:17AM (#46472051) Homepage Journal

    Of course it's sensitive and provides "useful" information. If it didn't provide any information, they wouldn't bother collecting it.

    Stazi. NSA. CIA. CSEC. GCHQ.

    All the same animal, just different flags.

  • Hypocrite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GoCrazy (1608235) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:23AM (#46472061)
    Dianne Feinstein is the same senator who complained that the CIA searched congress's computers.

    It was obvious before that it was a violation of privacy, this is just an illustration. Do you think politicians will care if it doesn't have anything to do with them?
    • by dgatwood (11270)

      Given her low approval ratings, the only reason Feinstein is in office at all is because the Republicans keep miraculously finding people even more unelectable.

  • <sarcasm>Wait, I thought that Roe v. Wade [wikipedia.org] established my right to privacy. Don't those left-wing nutjobs believe in their own judicial activisim? Based on that legal precedent, all NSA spying of all U.S. citizens should cease, immediately!</sarcasm>

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, it wasn't Roe v. Wade.. it was Griswold v. Connecticut, and had to do with the availability of contraception. Essentially saying that what you do in the privacy of your home is none of the government's business. Importantly, there's no explicit "right to privacy" in the US Constitution, but Griswold laid the foundation for why it follows from many of the other parts.

      Roe did cite Griswold and other cases and essentially held that decisions to have abortions are a *private matter* between woman an

      • by anegg (1390659)

        Importantly, there's no explicit "right to privacy" in the US Constitution, but Griswold laid the foundation for why it follows from many of the other parts.

        I've heard this claim before, and I'm confused and truly looking for an analysis. The 4th Amendment to the US Constitution says:

        Amendment IV The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, suppo

      • by Zak3056 (69287) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:26AM (#46473057) Journal

        Importantly, there's no explicit "right to privacy" in the US Constitution

        "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" sure sounds a hell of a lot like "privacy" to me. Of course, an "explicit" right to privacy is not required, it's already guaranteed by those pesky 9th and 10th amendments.

    • by Quila (201335)

      Don't those left-wing nutjobs believe in their own judicial activisim

      The types we are dealing with do not take positions based on overarching principle. Instead they take individual positions they were convinced to by their peers or superiors regardless of context. Thus, you will see conflicting positions that amount to obvious hypocrisy.

      Two recent examples:

      A Republican speaking of "Freedom of religion" while supporting a law allowing vouchers to be used for religious schools, then backpedaling quickly when

  • What the hell does "outed an assault rifle owner" mean? Last I checked, assault rifles are perfectly legal so what would be the point of outing an owner?

    Oh that's right....I forgot: sensationalism.
    • No, "assault rifles" are not perfectly legal, unless you have an FFL and pay the annual fee.

      Of course, they probably really meant "assault weapon", a nebulous term that seems to mean (usually) "a scary looking small calibre rifle".

      Note that I am an assault weapon owner. As well as the owner of an equally scary looking small calibre rifle that is on the "exempt" list of the original Assault Weapon Ban, as well as the later one that Obama couldn't get past Congress a few years ago.

      • No, "assault rifles" are not perfectly legal, unless you have an FFL and pay the annual fee. .
        Bzzzzzt. Wrong. They are perfectly legal and you have no idea what you are talking about. I have many and I don't pay a fee or have an FFL.

        The only rifles that are restricted to own are automatic rifles. ie: machine guns. But those have been restricted for a long time. Outside of that, there are no other restrictions to buy, own, posses, shoot, or sell an "assault" rifle/weapon (no difference). Th
        • Bzzzzzt. Wrong. They are perfectly legal and you have no idea what you are talking about. I have many and I don't pay a fee or have an FFL.

          Umm, no.

          What you are thinking of is an "assault weapon". Which is NOT an "assault rifle", even though both "assault rifles" and "assault weapons" are rifles.

          Note that an "assault rifle" is selective fire. An "assault weapon" (what you own, unless you have an FFL) are semi-automatic (AKA self-loading).

          The reason is was a stupid law is simple: the only thing that mak

  • by alispguru (72689) <bane@g[ ]com ['st.' in gap]> on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:42AM (#46473243) Journal

    ... then Ms. Feinstein should have no problem with a FOIA request for the metadata for her cellphone.

    I bet it would take about an hour to find a call from a lobbyist, received during a break in a legislative session.

  • Does the NSA rearrange bits on cable-connected computers in the USA without a warrant?

    Please pardon the John McEnroe reference!

  • For instance, for no good reason, stories I send to myself via the "share" button on a lot of sites have an overly descriptive "header" in them that basically reveals the entire content and tone and POV of the article. It's more descriptive than even the headline. I am not comfortable with this. so I take the time to change the header to something like "read later".

    Once companies get keyed into the "public nature" of metadata, - if they aren't already - believe that they will generate the most revealing me

  • That view is no longer tenable

    I've attentively followed every stray tidbit to cross my radar about the shadow sector since the publication of The Puzzle Palace, about the peripheral ghosts of which my algebra professor had direct experience.

    The gold box agencies can do traffic analysis at scale. They can model metadata at scale. They can't break every damn cipher at scale—neither can they employ the rubber hose password-getter at large scale (the Soviets managed to cover about 10% of their populatio

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @01:57PM (#46475151)

    Analysis of metadata is traffic analysis [wikipedia.org]. It has always been one of the staples of military intelligence, and everyone involved in intelligence-gathering knows it. It's based on the knowledge that a great deal of information--often including identities--can be gleaned simply from patterns of communication. Anyone in the intelligence world who says otherwise is knowingly lying.

  • I think without all of the work involved in this study, the credit card statement analogy paints a picture everyone can understand easily and accurately.

  • 'The science, however, is clear: phone metadata is highly sensitive.'

    .... and it was just as sensitive back in the 1970's when the courts said police could use it without a warrant (Smith v Maryland). Does no one remember the past anymore?

"A mind is a terrible thing to have leaking out your ears." -- The League of Sadistic Telepaths

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