Claims by the US spooks that they can't find out much about a person from their metadata have been blown apart by researchers at Stanford University.
The National Security Agency and some lawmakers claim that the metadata 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 who have been collecting information voluntarily from Android users found it was a doddle to correlate numbers to names.
Stanford Security Lab researchers ran 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 was to draw some lines connecting metadata and surveillance. The researchers selected 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.
Writing in their research bog, Jonathan Mayer and Patrick Mutchler said that they wondered what would happen if the spooks expended a bit of brainpower on such a project.
"We randomly sampled 100 numbers from our dataset, then ran Google searches on each. In under an hour, we were able to associate an individual or a business with 60 of the 100 numbers. When we added in our three initial sources, we were up to 73," they wrote.
But if the spooks wanted to invest some serious cash into the project, they could get the figures up to 91 per cent without coughing up too much green stuff.
The researchers also released an update to the Metaphone app that now enables instant feedback for users, giving them a quick view of how closely they're connected to other Metaphone users and how many businesses they've been in contact with.
Still it makes the NSA protests about spying look a little sick. It makes you wonder, could those nice men in black be lying? If they are lying about this, what else could they be lying about?