Sunday, January 20, 2013

It Isn’t Necessarily Big Brother, But Somebody Is Potentially Watching, Virtually All the Time

It Isn’t Necessarily Big Brother, But Somebody Is Potentially Watching, Virtually All the Time

by Martha Neil,
July 17th 2012 4:59 PM

Think your posts on Facebook are private? Think again.

It's only a computer scanning them, under ordinary circumstances, but certain content could flag a post for human review if criminal conduct is suspected, according to Reuters and Slate.

Tempted to say you're hard at work when you're not or for some other reason claim to be in a fictitious location? Government investigators can potentially use either your smartphone or even an ordinary cellphone to pinpoint where you were at any given time. Although civil rights advocates are arguing that a warrant is required, global positioning system software within smartphones can't be shut off even when the phone isn't live, recent news articles point out. And such warrants are apparently obtained with what some consider stunning frequency. Cellphone carriers responded last year to well over a million such demands for information by law enforcement officers seeking texts as well as GPS information, as a lengthy New York Times article details.

Ars Technica's Law & Disorder blog discusses a hard-fought federal district court case in Missouri in considerable detail and links to pleadings. A magistrate judge's ruling that GPS tracking, without a warrant, could be used by the feds as evidence in a city of St. Louis ghost employee case is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Meanwhile, other reminders that we live in an Orwellian world in which someone, albeit perhaps not the ubiquitous government watcher known as Big Brother, is a potential 24/7 unseen onlooker are not hard to find.

They include this week's news that the general counsel of a federal agency may have authorized surveillance of laptop communications between its own scientists and attorneys, journalists and politicians up to and including the president of the United States, as well as a Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) article published less than a week ago that reported major corporations are working together on a project to track shoppers' retina movements as they look at store displays to determine what is capturing their attention and for how long.

In light of such developments, it scarcely seems surprising that, as another Slate article points out, search engine information from Google and other Internet providers is not only being used to help convict individuals of crimes but seemingly could be used to help predict and prevent crimes before they occur.

In the wake of the New York Times article on an explosion of warrants being sent to cellphone carriers, newspaper editorials have been calling for a revamping of the nation's privacy laws.

Citing a a January decision by the U.S. Supreme Court limiting the use of GPS, one such editorial points to a concurring opinion comment by Justice Sonia Sotomayor that "the government's unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse." While it is appropriate for law enforcement to be able to mine a "rich trove of cellphone data" to solve crimes, clearer standards are needed, especially in the murky arena concerning the use of GPS locating information, according to a Denver Post editorial.

Earlier coverage: "Beyond Big Brother: Some Web Hosts Are Watching Your Every Keystroke" "Shopping Malls Put Hold On Plan to Monitor Cellphones After Lawmaker Asks Questions" "Federal Cameras Are Snapping Time-Stamped Pix of License Plates in 4 Border States"

London Evening Standard: "George Orwell, Big Brother is watching your house "

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