One of the key tenets of the argument that the National Security Agency and some lawmakers have constructed to justify the agency’s collection of phone metadata is that the information it’s collecting, such as phone numbers and length of call, can’t be tied to the callers’ names. However, some quick investigation by some researchers at Stanford University who have been collecting information voluntarily from Android users found that they could correlate numbers to names with very little effort.
The Stanford researchers recently started a program called Metaphone that gathers data from volunteers with Android phones. They collect data such as recent phone calls and text messages and social network information. The goal of the project, which is the work of the Stanford Security Lab, is to draw some lines connecting metadata and surveillance. As part of the project, the researchers decided to select a random set of 5,000 numbers from their data and see whether they could connect any of them to subscriber names using just freely available Web tools.
In fact, they found that it was very easy to spy on people.