Technology and your privacy:

Modern electronic devices cross personal boundaries

By Travis Thornton

Privacy.  What does that mean to you?  Does your privacy only concern your thoughts?  Or does it also include your actions behind closed doors and where you go from day to day?  Does your privacy have anything to do with what you view on the Internet or where you are right now?  Are your personal tastes involving food, entertainment, and beverage choice anybody’s business?

I remember a time when I could plug my name into an electronic device only to hear that device repeat it back to me.   Nowadays, I can throw my name into one of many electronic receptacles and what comes out astonishes me: email addresses, phone numbers, street names, family member names, and more—all for free.

We can only blame ourselves.  Most of the available information on the World Wide Web about you and me has been put there by us, via comment boxes, surveys, status updates, and SmartPhone Applications.  Since this is all readily available, here’s a taste of what you might find out about yourself:

This is just a small selection of what found on me.  Try your name and see what it knows about you.

It can be entertaining discovering new things about myself, since information provided by a free Internet resource can be inaccurate.  For instance, my wife would be quite interested in knowing that the Internet thinks I am single.  But you are not always aware of the information being mined from your virtual activities.

Have you ever wondered why the advertisements you see on some web pages seem tailored specifically to your interests?  It’s because they are.

Advertisers have a profile of you and the only thing missing is your name.  A Wall Street Journal investigation into online privacy found that ”children’s websites install more tracking technologies on personal computers than do the top websites aimed at adults.“  Yes, ever since you were a child, cookies and other tracking technologies have been used by data-collection companies to follow your activity online and build a profile of your interests. 

It’s somewhat unnerving to know that companies have purchased a list of my interests anchored to my IP address.  Not to mention anyone with an Internet connection, research skills, and a credit card can find my house on a virtual whim.  But this is just the icing on the cake. 

The cake is much, much scarier.

Advertisers and stalkers aren’t the only entities interested in you.  The authorities can know where you are at any given moment if you carry a cell phone, regardless of whether or not they have probable cause.  According, on September 7, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia decided that government agencies may obtain cell-site information about customers from mobile phone carriers without a probable-cause warrant.  Have you ever heard of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution?

The loophole seems to be this:  if you have given your information over to the phone company, it is no longer private.  Location tracking is primarily used in order to give you the best cellular service possible, but I would gladly accept some dropped calls in order to maintain some privacy in the restroom.

You can find another area where you give up any right to privacy when you park your car on a public street.  New technology employed on the streets, via the backscatter X-ray patrol van, can see inside your vehicle as it drives slowly by, just in case you store your contraband in the trunk while you are parked on Main Street. 

An article in The Toronto Star includes links to photos on the website of the developers of the technology, American Science & Engineering Incorporated, and reveals that ”the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, NATO, the U.K. Border Agency, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi Customs and European, Middle Eastern and South American governments are customers for the $750,000 vans.“ 

While I am unsure about the health concerns involved in a radioactive device bombarding any strolling passersby with X-ray photons, I will certainly wear my nicest lead-woven outfits out in public if I catch this van rolling through my neighborhood.

If you have been to the airport lately, then perhaps you’ve gotten to experience the ultimate degradation of human dignity. 

 While I can understand the need for heightened security, where do we draw the line?  The new full body scanners deployed by the Transportation Security Administration use the same technology utilized in AS&D, Inc’s van to produce a very good outline of a person’s naked body, as well as reveal any hidden explosives or weapons. 

Just ask Rolando Negrin, the TSA employee who was arrested after assaulting a co-worker. The co-worker, according to the police report on The Smoking Gun, would not stop torturing him over what was revealed in his full body image scan during training.  The TSA does not save the essentially nude photos that they have taken of you.  Well, at least they have said they don’t save them.  If there’s one source you can count on for the whole truth, it’s a government agency.

Seeing through your clothes and your vehicle might not be what you had in mind when we were promised more transparency from the government. 

Is this what the future is going to be like?  What happened to the hover-cars, jetpacks, and virtual-reality?  Instead we have iris scanners, random security checkpoints, and location tracking.

Perhaps this invasion of privacy would be easier for some of us to accept if we were all accustomed to being technologically tracked at a younger age.  School officials in Contra Costa County, California seem to have the same idea.           

An article in Tech News Daily details this school district’s use of Federal Stimulus dollars to utilize RFID (radio frequency identification) technology in order to track about 240 preschoolers ”to keep the children safe and to make better use of its teachers.“

It seems as if society in general just isn’t concerned with any of this.  We seem to be distracted just enough by our daily struggles and ridiculous amounts of various forms of entertainment.  

This technological control grid that is being built around us reminds me of the cautionary tale of the frogs in the slow boiling pot of water. 

I just hope that at least some of the frogs realize that they are being cooked before they are chipped with an RFID that may or may not have a temperature-monitoring app.