Vail Daily column: NSA isn’t biggest privacy problem
Ryan Summerlin September 28, 2013
If you think the NSA is invading your privacy, beware; they are not the only ones. For example, Google touches every part of our lives, from our Android phones (nearly 75 percent of all cell platforms) to our shopping, books, news, calendar, travel, translations, images, YouTube; virtually anything we do on our computers and cell phones is influenced by Google. Yet, as technology has evolved and made our life easier, we have paid a price — our privacy. In the digital world, where so much travels over the Internet, through sources that are owned and operated by private sources, the expectation of privacy diminishes severely. Once your “private” email leaves your home, it is open to the world, just as any information on a website is subject to public exposure. There are constitutional challenges, but those specifically address physical trespass issues, which would then have to be converted to digital trespassing — a difficult thing to prove since the parameters are so vague. To complicate matters, third-party organizations are not subject to constitutional privacy laws. We are all operating under a fallacy of privacy.
Our founding fathers had no way of anticipating today’s technology. Even a few decades ago, we never imagined that a device the size of a wallet could send mail, make calls, search for information, provide directions, take photos and that nearly everyone would have one. Even those who try to maintain a small digital footprint have most of their personal information listed on someone’s computer, which is transmitted online to various sources that we do not control. Constitutional protections are limited in the virtual world of the Internet.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects against unreasonable search and seizure. In the 18th century, that was rather straightforward; it protected you from government entering your domain and seizing paper and other physical goods; but what happens when that information is not physically with you but rather in the “cloud”? What happens when it is transported over public domain (Internet) and is freely given to third-party entities? Who owns and controls that information? According to Gmail, users should have no expectation of privacy in email that they send. Their quote is, “Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use Web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS provider in the course of delivery. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.’ Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 743-44 (1979).” The same holds true for other social media messaging, like Facebook. In addition, the Internet is global. If the website you use to store or transmit data is foreign owned, how does that affect U.S. constitutional rights? In this digital age, privacy is a fluid concept and subject to redefinition.
While we continue to feign outrage at Snowden’s betrayal, we are also grateful for the information. The NSA operates like a James Bond spy thriller, specializing in something known as data-mining. According to IBM, “Data-mining is about processing data and identifying patterns and trends in that information.” PRISM, the data-mining program, collects digital photos, stored data, file transfers, email, chat services, videos and video conferencing from nine Internet companies, utilizing their signals intelligence activity designator. However, we are to be comforted in knowing that these surveillance operations are permitted under the business records provision of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which compels businesses like Verizon, Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype, etc. to provide client information to the government, and are protected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act from privacy lawsuits. Oh, and by the way, the NSA keeps these records forever — that’s right, never deleted! Recently, agents in 74 countries demanded detailed information from Facebook on over 38,000 users, covering the past six months alone; they complied under the umbrella of immunity. However, no need to worry about abuse because the data collected is regularly reviewed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (Yes, the same guys guaranteeing corporate immunity.) Yet, this is not the most dangerous breach to your personal privacy. … You are!
All of those electronics that are designed to make life easier, do so by collecting data. From your “smart appliances” that track specific daily usage, to the GPS on your cell that allows you to locate the nearest Starbucks, you are monitored as easily as if you were wearing an ankle bracelet, except you are a prisoner to convenience. A debit card verses a check; a transponder instead of cash; a phone app for directions or information; a store’s loyalty card; the photos you upload on Facebook; Siri/Robin assisted searches, phone calls, and appointments; the use of email versus postal; Netflix verses a movie theater; Google searches; online shopping versus the mall; Kindle rather than a bookstore; GPS instead of Rand McNally … all of these conveniences require data that we provide freely to third parties, who maintain extensive files of information about our daily activities and interests. Combined, they create a composite and traceable pattern of activities, motivations and predictable behavior. Worse than the government having all of this information, so do thousands of strangers that work in these organizations, providing a security threat much greater than our government. When it comes to privacy, the NSA isn’t our biggest problem.
However, the worst perpetrator of your privacy is you! Social media is the death of privacy, and we are its primary contributors. Check out someone’s online profile and what do you see? Name, profession, location, birthday, schools attended, job resume, hobbies, personal interests, family photos, places they’ve been, political beliefs, religion, list of friends, relatives, acquaintances and their information, professional affiliations, favorite films, books, TV shows, music, sports, pets, favorite foods and restaurants, posted activities and the most telling of all, photos. Who needs the NSA when we have become slaves to convenience and exhibitionists of our lives, not to mention voyeurs of others?
Jacqueline Cartier, who has more than 25 years of political communications experience and is the president and CEO of Winning Images, recently moved back to Eagle-Vail from Washington, D.C. She can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 202-271-4165. Visit her website at www.cartierwinningimages.com.