Since 2013, a stream of disclosures have 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 novel crowdsourcing methodology, we demonstrate that telephone metadata is densely interconnected, can trivially be re-identified, and can be used to draw sensitive inferences.
Jonathan Mayer is a Ph.D. candidate in computer science and a lawyer at Stanford University, where he received his J.D. in 2013. He was named one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2014, for his work on technology security and privacy. Jonathan’s research and commentary frequently appear in national publications, and he has contributed to federal and state law enforcement actions. Jonathan is a Cybersecurity Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, a Junior Affiliate Scholar at the Center for Internet and Society, and a Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow. He earned his A.B. at Princeton University in 2009, concentrating in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
This talk is based on Jonathan Mayer’s forthcoming PNAS paper, “The Privacy Properties of Telephone Metadata.” Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a pre-print.