We are in a time when our privacy (and the expectation of it) is dwindling. If you have a computer or cell phone there are a lot of people who can know a lot about you whether you want them to or not.
I find it more than slightly creepy that if I search for something on Google, ads for that very thing will appear on my Facebook or eBay pages. But I guess that’s the “connected” world we live in now: What you do on the internet in one place is monitored by various other entities. Some of is fairly benign – in that marketers want to be able to better target their audience. But some of it is nefarious – as in government snooping which, come on, we know they do. We’ve all heard about the snooping into private lives that the NSA is doing.
On the local level, there was an article in our Pensacola newspaper recently about some new technology the police have and which they’d rather you not know about. Police can do what they call a “tower dump.” This lets them know the identities of all cellphones that have used a certain tower (or number of towers) in a given time period. And if the police know which phone was used, then they also know the number that phone called. And vice-versa. The article did not say, and perhaps cleverly omitted any admission by the police that they can actually monitor cellphone conversations.
But why could/would they not? Cellphones broadcast over public airwaves. As such, the police say that they are legally able to listen in. You don’t have the same right to privacy as you would using your regular old home phone landline; therefore no warrants are necessary. Civil rights organizations obviously do not agree.
Another device that police have is called a “Stingray.” This thing is the size of a suitcase and can emulate a cellphone tower. It tricks all cellphones in reception range to connect to it. (Your cellphone is always “looking” for a cell tower unless you put it in “Airplane” mode.) All the cops need to do is put the Stingray in the trunk of a car and drive into a neighborhood. They will know what the “bad guys” are doing…who they’re calling…and who’s calling them. And they’re probably listening in.
Details of the Stingray and how it works are understandably sketchy. The manufacturer says nothing…refers all inquiries to the law enforcement agencies that operate the device…the same law enforcement agencies that had to sign a confidentiality agreement just to purchase it.
Of course, the police have long had the ability to track you through the GPS feature of your cellphone. As long as it’s in your possession the government can know your whereabouts. It is still unclear whether “they” can track you even if the cellphone is turned off. Also, one federal agent I spoke with said “they” had the ability to turn your cellphone on and off at will. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.
This technology and these abilities trickle down from the federal government, who use and implement them to fight “The War On Terror!” And of course, when fighting TERROR! anything goes. Remember, the American people willingly, gleefully give up their rights when the government says it’s doing something in the interest of their safety and security. …What was it Ben Franklin said about that?
There are probably no practical solutions to the increasing invasion of our privacy. If you use the internet or own a cellphone you are being tracked in some way. You could, I suppose, never get on a computer and not ever keep a cellphone in your possession…but seriously, how could you get anything done in today’s world?
However, more and more things we carry casually and without thinking…credit cards and passports for instance…have chips in them that allow their use to be tracked – they’re called “RFID” or radio frequency identification chips. Mostly these are only readable at close ranges – for now. More and more cars have “transponders” in them that allow vehicle tracking. Some of these devices you’ll know about (e.g. Onstar services and the like)…and some you won’t.
I don’t want to sound like a paranoid, tin-foil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, but the implications of this capability to track an individual are equally scary and disturbing. I know that the excuse always is, “Hey, if you’re not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to fear.” But I don’t buy that. We always have something to fear when our government is involved; I think they’ve proven to us at this point that they cannot be trusted.
With no small amount of irony I saw that in the same newspaper, on the facing page to the one with the article on police cellphone snooping there was a full-page ad touting free cellphones for senior citizens. It was designed to look not so much like an ad, but a regular news page. And on it was one of those fake news articles with the headline: “U.S. Gov’t urges citizens to carry cellphones.”
Yeah, I’ll bet they do. The better to keep track of all of us.
Wall Street Journal Article on the Stingray
New York Times Article on Cellphone Tracking