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Is Privacy Dead? 4 Government and Private Entities Conspiring to Track Everything You Do Online and Off

The police-corporate surveillance “complex” is being consolidated, drawing ever-closer corporate tracking and government surveillance.

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Wireless devices are two-way technologies.  In addition to uploaded valuable personal data, wireless customers are sitting ducks for downloaded junk. Most smartphone users are unaware that when they download a “free” app they are downloading a Trojan horse. 

 

According to a recent study by Lookout Mobile Security, more than half of the free apps embed advertising in their offerings and that these offerings are provided by ad networks.  It estimates that 5 percent of all smartphone apps (representing 80 million downloads) are embedded with "aggressive" ad networks that can change bookmark settings and deliver ads outside the app they are embedded in.  Games, and especially Google Play, had the highest rate of ad placements.  The data from all these apps are being collected, analyzed and exploited  for commercial gain.

 

#4 – Private Data Aggregators

 

Private sector tracking can be divided between three types of companies.  One consists of those companies that facilitate commercial transactions, the ostensible bank like Visa or PayPal.  A second consists of the ad agencies (most notably Google) that capture personal data through “click-throughs” and “cookies.” Finally, private data aggregators like ChoicePoint, Intelius, Lexis Nexis and US Search Profile that collect personal data, repackage it and offering it for sale.  They acquire, slice & dice your personal information as if they were running sausage factories – and your personal life is the unlucky pig Together, they prove that nothing private is secret: the whole world is watching!

 

These companies track one’s every keystroke, every order and bill payment one makes, every word and/or phrase in one’s emails, even one’s every mobile movement through GPS tracking.  Data capture involves everything from your personal Social Security number, phone calls, arrest record, credit card transactions and online viewing preferences as well as your medical and insurance  records and even personal prescriptions.

 

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The Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, and reserved privacy to a citizen’s person, home and property; the 4th Amendment prohibits illegal search and seizure.   In the intervening 225 years, the notion of personal privacy has been radically transformed, especially in light of technological advances and the globalization of the marketplace.  It was written in a pre-industrial, agrarian era and informs decisions made in a post-modern world. 

 

Today, the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision, Katz v. U.S. (389 US 347), is all but forgotten.  It established a link between the modes of telecommunication and personal privacy that illuminates today’s debate over the limits of privacy in the post-modern age. 

 

In this case, Charles Katz used a public pay phone booth to place illegal  gambling bets.  In writing for the majority, Justice Potter Stewart noted, “One who occupies [a telephone booth], shuts the door behind him, and pays the toll that permits him to place a call is surely entitled to assume that the words he utters into the mouthpiece will not be broadcast to the world.”

Does someone making a call on a wireless device today have comparable rights as someone in a phone booth a half-century ago?  Are the keystrokes an individual enters on a personal computer or a smartphone equivalent to an old-fashion voice call?  And what of the personal information an individual provides to a 3rd party like a credit-card company, insurance company and telephone, wireless and Internet service provider?

The Katz decision was farsighted for the mid-20th century and one can only hope that its insight will inform the debate over 21st century digital technology and communications.  More so, it serves as an analogy for contemporary notions of social life and their reasonable expectations of privacy. 

 
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