Susan Landau reviews
work of Mayer et al.
that shows President Obama's statement:
When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program is about. As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content.
...is misleading. Mayer et al. convincingly show that call detail records (CDRs) are personally revelatory...
...it can be determined that someone is suffering from a multiple sclerosis relapse, having cardiac arrhythmia problems, seeking to buy an automatic rifle, intending to start a marijuana-growing venture, or having an abortion.
Needless to say, such insight puts communications surveillance law even more in flux.
Here is the abstract from Mayer et al:
Since 2013, a stream of disclosures has prompted reconsideration of surveillance law and policy. One of the most controversial principles, both in the United States and abroad, is that communications metadata receives substantially less protection than communications content. Several nations currently collect telephone metadata in bulk, including on their own citizens. In this paper, we attempt to shed light on the privacy properties of telephone metadata. Using a crowdsourcing methodology, we demonstrate that telephone metadata is densely interconnected, can trivially be reidentified, and can be used to draw sensitive inferences.
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