Do you drive a car?
Do you own a cell phone?
Do you use email?
The government and private companies want unlimited access to this data!
“Right now we’re in an environment where there are no rules, there are no limits, there are no consequences and there is no transparency,” said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to vote on Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) Location Privacy Protection Act, which would require companies to get a customer’s consent before collecting or sharing mobile location data. Franken says the bill would put an end to “GPS stalking” by companies.
“Every smart phone out there is a personal tracking device that transmits our location,” Franken said in a statement. “What most people don’t realize is that the law allows companies to collect and disclose our location information without our knowledge or consent – and that a lot of companies are doing just that.”
We are seeing consistent encroachments upon our personal privacy.
TEXT MESSAGES – Law enforcement groups and the Justice Department want the Senate to require wireless companies to retain your text messages for at least two years…so they can access that information later, if they so choose.
LICENSE PLATE DATA – Law enforcement is fighting to obtain a “trackable” database of your license plate information.
EMAILS – Senators were considering a bill amendment to be able to obtain your emails without a warrant! And, the Department of Justice argues that they have the right to read your emails that are more than 180 days old without a warrant.
VEHICLE BLACK BOXES – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to propose regulations requiring auto manufacturers to include event data recorders in all new cars and light trucks. Actually, automakers have been quietly putting them into most new cars for years now, using sensors to record data 5 to 10 seconds before an impact occurs. But the NHTSA proposal wants to expand the data it collects, and there is no opt-out, and no limits to how the information can be used. Car owners cannot disable the devices.
The argument seems to be that without access to this information, investigations could be hindered. That is the claim law enforcement made when arguing for text retention; and that is the same argument they gave when they put pressure on Senator Patrick Leahy to waive requiring a warrant before reading your emails. It is also the reason they gave when they successfully convinced the Justice Department that our cell phone data could be tracked because, American citizens have “no privacy interest” in that realm.
Do you remember where you drove your car last week? What about last month? What did you say to your friend three months ago in that email? Who did you text yesterday? If we do not remain diligent, Congress is going to allow themselves access to this information and law enforcement is going to be able to come in and take a look at everything you have done, without due cause or due process.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) will become chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in January. He says, “Many of us would see it as a slippery slope toward big government and Big Brother knowing what we’re doing and where we are. Privacy is a big concern for many across America.”
It is not the government business to decide whether or not we have a “privacy interest” with regard to our personal data. Clearly, with the rapid development of new technology, privacy is something that needs to be looked at, carefully.
Congress is considering an update to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, written before we had such things as cell phones cloud computing. A coalition of groups is fighting for a rewording of the law to address the freedom and privacy of all citizens, while law enforcement is fighting to keep this information completely accessible to them at any time. Groups including the ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Citizens Against Government Waste, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have organized a petition to Congress urging them to defend our rights:
The government should be required to go to a judge and get a warrant before it can read our email, access private photographs and documents we store online, or track our location using our mobile phones. Please support legislation that would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) to require warrants for this sensitive information and to require the government to report publicly on the use of its surveillance powers.
There should be no debate. We are guaranteed privacy, and we are guaranteed due process. Members of Congress and the President of the United States need to govern by the Constitution.
And We, the People need to stay on top of the debates our representatives are having about the accessibility and openness of our personal information, especially as these questions relate to our Constitutional rights.