The communications devices that we have been baited into using as a means to be within instant touch of our friends, associates, and the latest information, continue to be turned against us.
In addition to surveillance by the apps themselves offering a wealth of personal details to advertisers, smartphones have gained new capabilities to track a user’s location with incredible precision. This location data in turn is being used by law enforcement across the country in ways that should be troubling to civil liberties advocates.
Documents obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that cell service providers are not only willingly handing over all of your data to local police departments but they’re also charging an obscene amount of money for the information.
Now California has introduced a bill sponsored by the ACLU and EFF that proposes to limit the unbridled selling of this information by simply reinforcing current wiretap laws that demand a search warrant be issued before obtaining personal data. Naturally with big money at stake the wireless industry has vigorously opposed this legislation.
Three things should immediately jump out from the opposition to the California Location Act of 2012 (SB 1434).
1) Your data, calls, phone numbers, photos, electronic location, etc. are being turned over to authorities without a warrant;
2) Service providers are making money from this transaction when they vowed to never sell your data;
3) Your own local tax dollars are funding this warrantless breach into your privacy.
Whereas law enforcement and government merely seek to broaden the scope of their power as they are designed to do, service providers seek to commodify your personal information and double-dip beyond the service you believed you were buying. The combination of the two leaves users with reduced civil liberties and empty pockets.
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Andy Greenberg of Forbes writes:
If Americans aren’t disturbed by phone carriers’ practices of handing over cell phone users’ personal data to law enforcement en masse–in many cases without a warrant–we might at least be interested to learn just how much that service is costing us in tax dollars: often hundreds or thousands per individual snooped.
In response, ACLU’s attorney involved in the FOIA requests said “That’s a curious definition of ‘sell,’ given that they seem to be charging money for people’s information on a regular basis and handing it over to law enforcement agencies around the country.”
SB 1434 first sets the standard to have a search warrant or nothing, then imposes strict reporting requirements that would bring transparency where currently it is lacking. This is the central point that the wireless industry is opposing.
There is interesting language being used by the Wireless Association that includes AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, as highlighted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
the proposed reporting requirements ‘unduly burden wireless providers and their employees, who are working day and night to assist law enforcement to ensure the public’s safety and to save lives.’
Working day and night to assist law enforcement? This is yet another example of America’s heavy lean toward Fascism, as national security is invoked to give increased power to corporate entities, while the rights of the individual are sacrificed. These communications companies should be working day and night to enhance the quality of the products we are paying for, and uphold their commitment to privacy protection. This is a highly dangerous money-making scheme.
A further demonstration of the cozy relationship between these private corporations and their government directors is shown by SB 1434 ultimately being passed out of committee without the “burdensome” reporting requirements requested by civil liberties groups.
And there we can find the simple truth: they are trying to build a prison, and every one of us is expected to pay for its construction.
Please visit The Electronic Frontier Foundation to learn about ways to become active by contributing to corporate and government transparency through initiatives such as the OpenNet Transparency Project.
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