Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Big Brother is Watching Me

While searching around this morning for a subject for today’s post, something interesting happened.

I got my picture taken by Google. Not by a satellite, but by one of its Street View cars.

And this was before I put on my makeup. I take no responsibility for any trauma that may occur as a result. Women, small children, and pets are equally at risk. You’ve been warned.

Coincidentally, (or maybe not, the powers of Google appear to be unlimited) I was going to write about all the news that has surfaced in the past weeks concerning the information that many electronic products are gathering, in many instances without the knowledge or approval of users. There is a lot of it, both the news and the information being gathered.

It started with this article about Michigan police and their very illegal searches of cell phones without probable cause or a warrant at traffic stops. That right there was enough for a whole post.

I wasn’t alone in noting that these searches were illegal, violating as they do our Constitutional 4th Amendment against illegal search and seizure. Some law professor named Glenn Reynolds agrees. A random traffic stop is insufficient cause to start pawing through your car’s glove box without a warrant, it’s even less cause to look at anything else, including your phone. It should go without saying that you should never consent to a search of yourself or your possessions for any reason. The fact that you think you have nothing to hide doesn’t prevent an overzealous prosecutor from finding something (anything) to justify his or her salary.

But that little obstacle doesn’t dissuade a few ill-informed and uneducated police officers from violating your rights, as that article shows. Random searches are fishing expeditions and are expressly forbidden unless and until there is a good reason for it, such as the investigation of a crime. I’m all for giving police the proper tools to do their job to keep us safe, but random searches aren’t the way to do it. The method of proper evidence gathering is clearly laid out in our Constitution, along with the proper reason for it; so citizens can be secure from an overreaching government that thinks it has the right to know everything it wants to know about you and your goings-on.

The next thing I ran across was the revelation that many Apple products contain the wherewithal to gather all kinds of information on you. They say they must have it. Granted, some of that information has legitimate uses, for instance, supplying you with driving directions. That’s a great thing for consumers, but I have to ask why any information should be retained and sent to any third party after the use for that information is no longer is needed by the user. The verbal parry and thrust over this issue is getting interesting, as Apple’s Steve Jobs says those reports are “false.”

Hmm, really, Steve? Those allegations just sprang forth all on their own? You say one thing, your very own company says something completely different. Which is it?

I’m not comforted by that. Nor am I relived that Google’s Android operating system does the same thing.

Which brings up another question. Why can’t I control the information gathered about me? Since the information that is being amassed is About Me, shouldn’t I have some control over it? Shouldn’t I, as the subject of all this curiosity about my patterns and behavior, be the one who controls it? What if I happen to think that what I do, where I go and what I search for online is my business and no one else’s?

Whose life is this, anyway?

The icing on the digital cake came in this article in the WSJ Online, The Really Smart Phone. You will be amazed at the amount of effort that some people are expending to find out all kinds of things about you. Imagine someone who’s not your mother being able to predict with a certainty of 93.6% where you will be at any given moment. Imagine someone who’s not your doctor or pharmacist knowing whether you are sick or well. That you’re talking to someone about politics. How about being able to accurately predict movements of the stock market six days ahead of time with an 87.6% rate of accuracy?

Do you feel secure yet?

Information, like fire, has many uses. It can be used for good things or not-so-good things. It’s not the information itself, it’s how it’s used and who has access to it. As you may have already guessed, the potential for abuse is rather great. A little too great for my liking.

Already, there are too many in the legal community who are of the opinion that we have no right to privacy, and as a result, all manner of things can be done in regards to gathering information about you without your knowledge or consent.

Isn’t it about time we put this issue to rest and recognize that we do have a right to privacy?

And that it is legally sacred like the rest of our rights and shall not be abridged?

Oh, and I smiled at the Google camera car. Hi, Mom.

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