Astonishing Graphic Shows What You Can Learn From 6 Months Of Someone’s Phone Metadata

A German politician named Malte Spitz filed a suit against T-Mobile for the release of all the metadata from his phone that had been gathered and stored.

He received 35,830 records — about six months worth — and then gave it to ZEIT Online.

From ZEIT (emphasis ours):

“We combined this geolocation data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites, all of which is all freely available on the internet.

By pushing the play button, you will set off on a trip through Malte Spitz’s life.”

The result is astonishing to watch — a politician’s daily movements and communications over months.

Click the image to get taken to the ineractive version of the chart.


It’s important to note two things: First, this is only phone metadata — the National Security Agency also reportedlycollects bulk Internet metadata.

Second, U.S. officials have said that the NSA chooses not collect location data of U.S. cell phones — even though the Obama administration has argued in court that warrantlessly tracking locations of Americans’ mobile devices is perfectly legal.

Here’s what Spitz recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed:

… now imagine if you had access to millions of similar data sets. You could easily draw maps, tracing communication and movement. You could see which individuals, families or groups were communicating with one another. You could identify any social group and determine its major actors.

That is precisely why the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the government for collecting the information in the first place, arguing that the phone metadata “gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious, and intimate associations.”

The ACLU adds that this type of dragnet surveillance “is not authorised by Section 215 [of the Patriot Act] and violates the First and Fourth Amendments.”

Last month Rep. Mike Rogers (R- Mich.), who heads the House Intelligence Committee, argued that phone metadata from Americans is kept in a “lockbox” that can only be accessed if it becomes relevant to terrorism investigations.

As we’ve since learned , that’s not the case since analysts can access the data at their discretion.

Furthermore, privacy-minded senators such as Mark Udall (D-Colo.) don’t understand why the National Security Agency (NSA) collects the data in bulk in the first place.

“I don’t think collecting millions and millions of Americans’ phone calls — now this is the metadata, this is the time, place, to whom you direct the calls — is making us any safer,” Udall (D-Colo.) has said.

Check it out the interactive graphic at ZEIT ONLINE >

(h/t reddit user AGreatGuy)