About 15 years ago I was part of an ongoing public discussion concerning privacy. The discussion at the time was about street cameras placed by the police around the neighborhoods. Was this somehow a violation of privacy? Should they be able to track, “Person of Interest” style, your comings and going? And more importantly, why should you care? Quite unremarkably the counter argument was simply “if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t worry.”
It seemed that the discussion has all but disappeared from public discourse–in fact it has as far as the cameras go. We even let them issue traffic violations (and I say “them” since the process is fully automated and, if my brother-in-law’s experience is any indication, human involvement only makes matters worse.)
Now CNN reports that the cell companies are selling our data to law enforcement. Without warrant. On request. And according to the guest writer for CNN not even Congress knows how much of our private information is being sold to the police:
The little we do know is worrisome. The companies are not legally required to turn over your information simply because a police officer is curious about you. Yet wireless carriers sell this information to police all the time.
As far as the cell phone companies are concerned, the less Americans know about it the better.
Now, I am no hater of big business. Usually. But I am not in favor of large scale invasion of privacy, whether by the government or by business. I appreciate that Google makes it clear (we think) what they use our data for, and if you listen to me on Real Tech for Real People you know I don’t know WHAT Facebook is doing with the data. (Check Episode 113, coming soon, for our latest discussion there.)
But this is more than wondering if companies are going to market us to skin product and vacation salesmen. This is far more ominous. This is the phone company handing over data to the local law enforcement officials (and perhaps state and federal?) simply because they pay for it. Nefarious indeed.
As the author of the article writes:
Whom you text and call and where you go (tracked by your cell phone as long as it’s on) can reveal a great deal about you. Your calling patterns can show which friends matter to you the most, and your travel patterns can reveal what political and religious meetings you attend and what doctors you visit. Over time, this data accumulates into a dossier portraying details of your life so intimate that you may not have thought of them yourself. In comparison with companies such as Facebook and Google, which collect, store and use our information in one way or another, cell phone companies are less transparent.
The concern here isn’t with valid, Warrant driven collection of data for legitimate enforcement of laws. The concern is the wholesale collection of the entrails of each citizen’s daily life.
So–at what point do YOU think the police, the agency with the power and the legal authority to detain you, and force you to give up your civil liberties, are getting too much information?
Where do YOU draw the line?
(As an aside, apparently in the 1960s the Coca Cola company was to be feared as much as the Phone Company.)