Until the revelations based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden came to light, the world had to take U.S. intelligence agencies’ word that they were adhering to legal limits on domestic and foreign data gathering. Now that we know better, all of the assurances they’ve made about the nature of their surveillance programs are under scrutiny. One such conceit—that the collection of metadata shouldn’t be viewed as surveillance—is being put to the test by researchers at the Stanford Security Lab at Stanford University. A new project, called Metaphone, will use metadata collected from the cellphones of volunteers to see how much additional information can be discovered when starting with logs of phone calls and text messages.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate began debate this week over the Surveillance Transparency Act introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). The bill would require that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) make revelations of its own. Among them: how broad a net it is casting in its data collection programs; what proportion of the people having their data collected are U.S. citizens or permanent residents; and whose information was actually reviewed by a government agent. The legislation would also eliminate the gag orders that prevent phone and Internet companies from divulging the number of orders they receive demanding customer data and the number of requests with which they comply.
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