The Illusion of Digital Privacy


PC: hustvedt/wikimedia commons

Quashon Avent
Staff Writer 

On June 22, the U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark decision in the history of digital privacy rights. In the case of Carpenter vs. US, the court ruled in Carpenter’s favor, declaring that the government needs a warrant to collect cell phone location data. Before this proceeding, police were able to collect this data from the cell phone provider due to the Third-Party doctrine and the Stored Communications Act.

The Third-Party doctrine allowing a third party to access consumer data is no longer protected by the Fourth Amendment. The Stored Communications Act is very similar, it allows law enforcement to get data directly from a cell phone provider without probable cause. During the trial, the third party doctrine was used to argue against Carpenter, but to no avail.

The court’s ruling was highly controversial, as many critics feel it will have a negative impact on national security investigations. Critics often point out the damning evidence against Carpenter. Carpenter was the suspected leader of a group of armed robbers. Police monitored Carpenter’s phone location for 127 days. They used the information from his phone to tie him to the scene of several robberies. Critics believe this form of surveillance was necessary to catch Carpenter and similar criminals. They particularly stressed its usefulness for national security investigations. I beg the differ.

I disagree with this assumption because of one simple thing- cell phone location data cannot be deleted, especially if you have used your phone near a cell tower. Therefore, there are no time restrictions on this evidence and investigators can easily wait to receive a warrant. But this is not the case, because the government (and many private businesses) seen to not be held to the same constitution that we are. The government constantly tramples on our right to digital privacy and monitors us without our permission. Even businesses ignore our privacy, mostly in the pursuit of monetary gain.

In early 2018, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was creating a database to monitor journalists and “media influencers”. The actual purpose of this database is unknown, but many speculate it will be a blacklist- similar to the Nixon’s enemy list.

Many well-known health apps collect the user’s biological data. This data includes menstrual cycles, heart rate, sleep patterns, diet, pregnancies, etc. There are corporations known as data brokers, that collect and sell your private information to businesses and governments. This data can be anything from property records to marriage licenses, or even your social security number.

Amazon even recently partnered with law enforcement to create a facial recognition system. “Rekognition” can monitor, identify, and recognize 100 people in real time. This system can scan the face of an individual and match it with over a million others within its database. According to Amazon, this system will be used to monitor “people of interest.”

If that wasn’t scary enough, the Intercept recently discovered a new NSA surveillance program. In 8 eight United States cities, there are sprawling skyscrapers that house telecommunications surveillance centers. These centers are owned and operated by AT&T, and many of these towers process customer data and relinquish it to the NSA. Some of those under surveillance are not even AT&T customers.

Those examples should be appalling, yet they aren’t. This is because many of us have become complacent. We believe that this level of surveillance is a necessary evil. We believe that we must give up our privacy for better customer service, or for our own safety. But that is an obvious lie. We know about the Snowden files, we know about Cambridge Analytica and we know about FISA. The truth behind this technology is that it’s not used to keep us safe, but to keep us in line. In the words of famous journalist and activist Glenn Greenwald: “Tyranny loves surveillance, because it breeds conformity.”

Categories: Opinions, Uncategorized

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