Yesterday I got a letter in the mail from the company I bought my car from, 3.7 years ago. It was a reminder that my car was coming up for service because they had estimated my mileage to be 50,700 miles. Something clicked. I went to my car and looked at the odometer and it read 50, 870. I looked at the date the letter was sent and realized that I had taken a trip to Mississippi two day back, and the same day the letter was mailed my odometer was reading 50,700 miles.
Was it chance? Was it a lucky guess from some kind of extrapolation method? I called the company to ask. “Yes sir,” I said, “I have a question. Is my car communicating with your service department? Is my car feeding information to you? Can you see how many miles I'm traveling?”
“No sir!” He said. “No way are we gathering that kind of data, that was just an estimation, a lucky guess.”
“Well, is it possible that you could be gathering other information, like my GPS data? How about when my iPhone is picked up by my car? Can you tell where I'm coming and going from those devices? If the government asked you for that data could you give it to them” I asked, and then there was a proverbial Freudian slip...
“Oh, no sir, not without a court order. I can see that you can be taken off of our mailing list if you want.” He said, seemingly distracted.
“I don't think you understand what I'm asking here. It isn't about my not wanting to be mailed a reminder for service, but that you are gathering information, personal information, without my knowledge. Do you see that?”
“Well, I suggest you contact the service manager and tell him about your concerns. It would be pretty expensive to gather information like this without a reason.” he said.
“Thank you so much, I see your point, but let me ask you one final question, you are the General Manager, are you not?”
“Why, yes I am,” he said.
“Can you tell me what the national debt was before Obama got into office?'
“Well..." He laughed, “I know it must be high, something like two?”
“It was 10 trillion, and now it is 17.5 trillion. Still think it is too expensive to gather information? Thank you for your time sir.”
Today I went to Sam's. Since the thunder storm yesterday the computer system was said to be ten times slower than normal and the line was backed up 15 deep. No one knew what to do but give out chocolate chip cookies to those waiting. The digital security cameras were working, and the man who counts articles at the door was still on the job, to keep us all honest... and on my way home the five red-light cameras recorded my path, along with a recording of my GPS movement on my iPhone. And from apartment intercom systems to digital parking meters, we no longer have a free moment of solitude, a moment of seclusion. If you pick your nose or adjust your underwear, most likely someone is laughing at it. And there is a recording of your presence even on some kitchen appliances, or your own security system.
Cell phones leave a data trail, and it is standard procedure for the police department or the Federal Government to use that information in a court of law. Sometimes it may be circumstantial, as your location is triggered by the communication tower you used, but it is enough to place you in the area. That tower has a record of every phone that used it, and phones are getting smarter. Every year New GPS-enabled iPhones can tell when you travel from doorstep to destination, and the very newest can do this with the phone turned off, even detecting, and recording the Wi-Fi signals coming from your home computer. And if you are in the vicinity of two or more towers, you can easily be triangulated to an exact location.
And so, this kind of evidence is now hard, and no longer considered circumstantial. Yes, we can curb crime, but at what sacrifice?
The Patriot Act
Just after September 11th President Bush signed into law the USA Patriot Act. And though it is said that due process no longer exists, real-time tracking still requires a warrant. Yes, the courts are said to have settled that... but the vague part of the law is the privacy of your past, and fully recoded cell phone data is up for grabs. Someone is trying to protect your future, so they say, but your past is an open book...
It is said that cell companies require subpoenas, and others a warrant which is a presupposition for probable cause, with the possibility of a future court involvement. But the real kicker here is not the overt gathering of data, but the method used, and the law treats each of these methods differently. The actual privacy of records depends not only on the method, but the type of technology used. The law is nebulous, confusing, and this is the perfect tool to crush privacy, for instance, in most cases a warrant is not necessary to access tower data. And a lawyer friend on mine says there is a case pending in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that might help define the privacy protections for cell tower location records. We'll see.
But I have to admit, all of this surveillance is starting to creep me out. And I'm wondering just what it is going to take to reverse it. Data gatherers see a new avenue for surveillance by a method called Google Latitude, and the trail of what they call “digital bread crumbs” are enslaving us with invisible lines of force that can scarcely be imagined.
Seems to me the only way to reverse this is for people to finally get incensed. It is kind of like realizing that cigarette smoking is bad for you, but no matter how much you try you still smoke. You like all of your little toys, i Pads to gaming devices, Face Book to Pay Pal, and along with that your life no longer belongs to you. Your decisions, your free thought, are all being manipulated and coerced, and some times without your knowledge or consent. And it will have to be like that final moment when you decided that enough is enough, and put that last pack of cigarettes in the trash... The day you finally thought of yourself as weak-natured and controlled, was the day you finally found the strength to say once and for all, no, never again... It was the day you got your liberty back. You see, it isn't love but fear that makes this world go round, and money is the oil for that machine. There is profit, unimaginable profit in your enslavement, so if you make Liberty profitable, it will again be yours. As always, it is all up to you.