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United States Privacy

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

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 on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:10AM (#46472011)

    "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 ) <> 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.
  • 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 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 O('_')O_Bush ( 1162487 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:39AM (#46472153)
    You are clueless, and clearly have no idea about what kinds of things get classified.

    For example, say we hand over the specs and signatures for the subs carrying our nuclear deterrents (MIRVs). As it is, any aggressor has no idea where those subs are, what they sound like, their physical limits or their capabilities for detecting threats. If you hand that information over, suddenly, the entire sub fleet becomes useless. Defeats the purpose of being hidden.

    Now, that is a fundamental part of MAD and our second-strike capability. Not something that can just be hand-waved away to be "we should just be so strong to not need secrets". We'd bankrupt the country chasing that pipe dream, and still be no better off, given we'd be footing the bill for decades of technology and handing it over, for free, to any interested enemy.

    Stealth is another good example. The only countries developing stealth aircraft other than us, were countries that stole the technology or were able to examine downed stealth aircraft we had designed. That advantage gave us at least 3 decades of air superiority, and could have been more. That is a major cost savings and powerful tool compared to building a massively more expensive army to compensate for the lack of that technological superiority(yes, I known we already have a massively expensive army).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:40AM (#46472157)

    THE Muslims want to kill and subdue us? All of them?

    With such broad generalized accusations, you are a much greater danger to freedom than the average Muslim is. Specifically you seem to be defending your freedom by pissing it away.

  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:47AM (#46472199)

    Sure. There is nothing wrong with everyone knowing everything about everyone IF nobody will use such knowledge for malicious activities, nor to judge and/or segregate people into groups based on their preferences. I wouldn't mind people knowing which porn genre I prefer if they wouldn't treat me different for it. I'm sure many transsexuals wouldn't mind other people knowing that they are if people would just treat them as human beings just like any other.

    The biggest issue with all information being public is that any deviation from social norm is usually met with hostility, instead of curiosity, thought, acceptance that not everyone thinks the same and that not all deviation is "bad".

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:56AM (#46472281)

    If it's so useless, then why are they collecting it under the guise of preventing terrorism? It has some use, and obviously, they're able to identify people if they want.

    I'm just saying that fears of metadata abuse are overexaggerated.

    It's really not.

  • by zerosomething ( 1353609 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:01AM (#46472317) Homepage

    ... Although I as well as almost everyone else sort of hate being spied upon there really is a vast upside to knowing what people are up to. ...

    You seem to be implying that the loss of some privacy is worth the perceived safety society might get from it? Really! Then why not give up all privacy because it would benefit society so much!. That people don't understand the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" is a fundamental right. Not violating that right is worth any perceived, or even real, danger to society.

    "OMG he has kerosene and fertilizer in his garage he must be planning to use it for bomb making! We must investigate and watch him."


    "OH the kerosene was for a heater but he was using the fertilizer to grow pot so that's why we did the raid and how his wife and dog got shot"

  • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:20AM (#46472437) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, that was my first take as well. This telephone number called that telephone number. Big whoop. Unless we have the name of the person who owns that first telephone number it's still just a number. Granted, matching a name to a phone number is trivially easy, except more and more people are not putting their cell phones into the phone book so it at least requires an Internet connection.

    Did you really just say that you think clandestine government agencies are using the White Pages?

  • Re:Of course... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ebno-10db ( 1459097 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:21AM (#46472449)

    is there any proof that the NSA was doing stuff like this?

    It doesn't matter. A "we don't do that" from the NSA, even if we could be sure it was the gospel truth, would be no defense. Read up on the creation of the Bill of Rights. The authors took the approach that any power which potentially can be abused, will be abused at some point.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:23AM (#46472461) Journal

    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 jythie ( 914043 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:28AM (#46472505)
    Reasonably minds rarely make the claim that only people who agree with them are reasonable.
  • by jythie ( 914043 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:37AM (#46472571)
    It is almost worth having all my other comments nulled out just to mod this up. This is exactly the problem with information being too public. In an ideal world we would all have nothing to hide, but in reality stereotypes and biases are rampant, with plenty of people perfectly happy to make your life miserable for failing to conform to norms they hold.
  • Re:Outed? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:49AM (#46473295) Journal

    You don't hate guns. You hate the people who own guns. Hating guns is illogical as hating chairs or hats or the air you breathe. They are inanimate objects and if you "hate" them, then you're clearly unable to deal with reality.

    That being said, you don't hate guns, you hate "we the people" having guns. As a liberal, forcing people to join your collective under threat of government guns is what you depend upon. Your support of Government owning guns, is very likely. You likely support army, police and other national security people owning and bearing guns, even to protect the President (Republican OR Democrat) and high ranking officials like Feinstein, Reid and so on.

    I have YET to meet a "gun hating democrat" that wants to disarm EVERYONE (including the government). Therefore, you don't hate guns. You hate average people having guns. And that speaks higher volumes about your hypocrisy than anything else.

  • Re: Outed? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @11:14AM (#46473517) Journal

    We're well and truly fucked!!


    When Feinstein was okay with NSA spying on Americans we were fucked. Now that that chicken came home and roosted upon her doorstep, she is suddenly "offended". Where was that outrage when it didn't affect her. She is a hypocrite of the highest order. ANYONE who supports her at this point is the problem, regardless of how she votes on every other issue.

  • Re:Outed? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @11:19AM (#46473541)

    And of course there are plenty of people who would like to lynch gun owners as a matter of policy. A bit ironic, but that's the kind of hysteria the U.S. experiences every time someone goes on a rampage.

    That's just not ironic. It's asinine.

    It would be akin to every time a man rapes a woman, men all over are randomly attacked due to their potential to rape.

    It would be akin to every time someone drives drunk and injures someone, people are attacked randomly at a wine tasting event for their potential to drive drunk.

    Seems we only care about certain abuses and take them to asinine levels.

  • Re:Outed? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @11:54AM (#46473895)

    That is silly, chairs were designed to be safe, guns were designed to kill things. My hair and the air were never designed to kill people.

    Why the hell are you "guns for everyone guys" not saying GUN SAFE LAWS are needed, "a good sturdy safe for every gun"? A firearm Safe required with all gun purchases will probably drop gun deaths by 50% or more, if the data from Europe is correct.
      You still get your silly killing machine and those people that like the improved safety of chairs can sleep at night knowing your kids or a thief are not making off with your gun to point at someone that isn't involved in your gun purchase.

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

    Analysis of metadata is traffic analysis []. 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.

  • Re:Outed? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @02:12PM (#46475265)

    Hyperbole just makes you look like a fool.

    No one owns landmines legally and while many do have automatic firearms, they are highly regulated and owners go through extensive background checks.

I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs. -- H.L. Mencken