Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Privacy, or lack thereof

In other news, the privacy war marches on.

In California, Governor Brown vetoed a bill that would have required police to get a warrant before searching someone's cell phone, including using it to access on-line information such as emails, journals, location data, mobile banking data, and cloud storage.  Let's say you get arrested for drunk driving.  Fair enough, you did it, you got caught, you get arrested.  No problem so far.  The police search your car, find nothing illegal in it, so they open up your phone, find out everyone you've talked to recently, read all of your emails, look at where you've taken your cell phone in the last few weeks, and take a look at all of the things you read online or the files you keep on the net.  Those alarm bells you hear is your mind reminding you of how easy it is to break some little portion of some obscure law these days.  Maybe all they'll do is snicker at your browsing habits on Amazon, or maybe they'll report to DHS because you have been emailing back and forth in tech speak to your co-worker from Pakistan.  Either way, they're going to use the portable magic elf box to dig through a lot of the nooks and crannies of your life.

People, even if all you have is the default security software on your phone, use it.  Set your phone to lock when not in use, and use an unlocking code that isn't easy to guess.  Yeah, it won't keep a determined guy in a lab out, but it'll keep the nice officer on the side of the road from reading your text messages.

Next, we have something that really pisses me off.  The Justice Department has forced Google and another on-line service provider to give up the contact information of everyone a person, who may or may not be associated with the WikiLeaks organization, has corresponded with for two years.  The full text of the emails sent was not requested, so the government is apparently doing a bit of network and schedule analysis on the email traffic.  What gets me is that they didn't have to get a warrant to do this. All they had to do was get a court order that states that the companies have to turn this information over. For a bonus point, they did this without informing the person that they were under surveillance.  So we've got a government agency forcing two companies to provide surveillance information on a citizen without a warrant and without informing the citizen that the order has been made.  For me, that's a non-starter breach of the 4th Amendment.  If the government wants to know who I'm communicating with, then they should have to convince a judge that I'm breaking the law and  have them issue a search warrant, which should be served to me so that I know that the government is poking around in my life.  Getting the exterior information of my communications and using it to figure out who is talking to whom and when is just as intrusive as reading the actual content of the traffic itself.  The law that authorizes this behavior needs to be declared unconstitutional and thrown in the river with a cement block tied to it.

Don't get me wrong.  If law enforcement feels that someone needs to be checked out as part of a criminal case, then they should have the tools to look for evidence of these crimes.  But the principle of the warrant should be followed at all times.  Prove that there is cause for someone's privacy to be violated, get a warrant, and follow it.  All other things seem to erode the part of the social contract that says that the government should stay out of our lives unless it is absolutely necessary for them to intrude.

Yes, I know that it is absolutely trivial in a technical sense for anyone to see anything we do on-line.  But there's a big difference between what is technically feasible, what is legal, and what is ethical.  The government should have big, clear, bold lines that say "Further than this, thou shalt not go" on them when it comes to the privacy of citizens.  Anything that makes those lines fuzzier adds grease to an already slippery slope.


Matt said...

I would certainly lock my phone up but be aware that there is a machine that Law enforcement has that can simply scan the phone and they don't even have to be physically connected.

Turn off the GPS unit in your phone.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"The government should have big, clear, bold lines that say "Further than this, thou shalt not go" on them when it comes to the privacy of citizens."


"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

About the only way it could be clearer would be to eliminate the word "unreasonable".

The problem is not the lack of "big, clear, bold lines", but the towering edifice of precedent and rules that have been built up for the government to use in ignoring the big, clear, bold lines that already exist.

DaddyBear said...

Matt, you have a point, but why make it easy for them? Also, not every patrol vehicle, even in areas that use such devices, will have them.

Jake, I think where I was going was that we need to re-establish the supremacy of our rights over the powers of the government, and make sure there is no excuse of ignorance for violating them. Yes, we've got almost 100 years of precedent eroding our protections, but nothing says we can't work through the legislature and judiciary to take back what's been eaten away.

WS4E said...

Put the phone in your car, get out, and lock the car door behind you.

"I do not submit to searching my car".

They still have to have a warrant/probably cause to search a vehicle.

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