Timothy B. Lee of The Washington Post, notes that while the "the government has cited a controversial 1979 Supreme Court decision that held that phone records are not protected by the Fourth Amendment," the "distinction between call 'contents' and 'metadata' isnt always clear. Sometimes, the mere fact that someone called a particular number reveals extremely sensitive personal information."
Two people in an intimate relationship may regularly call each other, often late in the evening. If those calls become less frequent or end altogether, metadata will tell us that the relationship has likely ended as welland it will tell us when a new relationship gets underway. More generally, someone you speak to once a year is less likely to be a close friend than someone you talk to once a week.
Consider the following hypothetical example: A young woman calls her gynecologist; then immediately calls her mother; then a man who, during the past few months, she had repeatedly spoken to on the telephone after 11p.m.; followed by a call to a family planning center that also offers abortions. A likely storyline emerges that would not be as evident by examining the record of a single telephone call.
Likewise, although metadata revealing a single telephone call to a bookie may suggest that a surveillance target is placing a bet, analysis of metadata over time could reveal that the target has a gambling problem, particularly if the call records also reveal a number of calls made to payday loan services.
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