One of the most bizarre defenses of the NSA program collecting Americans’ phone metadata is the claim it is not so bad because they are not actively linking the phone numbers to individuals. It appears to be a talking point because I have now seen it made several times. The most recent was by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) in a Politico interview:
“It appears from what we know so far that the NSA, for American citizens, was not looking at the content of these phone calls,” the former prosecutor noted. “They were not even looking at the identity of who was making the phone calls. They were simply getting humongous databases and then with court permission would go in and check certain numbers to see if they matched the calls that were being made. And I think that has to come out.”
Even if the NSA is collecting this metadata without account information, which I doubt, it is comically easy for anyone to link the vast majority of phone numbers to individual people or businesses. It does not even require access to special government or private databases. A basic Google or yellow pages search alone is normally sufficient.
Probably the only reason the NSA might not automatically link phone numbers to individuals in the metadata is because they know anyone can quickly and easily do that with public data. This tiny technical distinction shouldn’t comfort anyone.
Photo by reticulating released under Creative Commons License