Locational privacy

August 12, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has released a free report on locational privacy. Locational privacy is the ability for people to move freely in public space without any expectation that one is being tracked, monitored or secretly recorded. Of course, I’m going to suggest to you that our locational privacy is pretty stuffed already – for example, your cell phone can be used to locate you (triangulation can pinpoint a cell phone user’s whereabouts by bouncing signals off three phone masts to establish an exact set of co-ordinates – so turn it off if you don’t want to be found). Just think of the many ways our daily movements can be monitored:

  • your credit card purchases will reveal the city you’ve shopped in, the stores you’ve visited
  • the e-tag you have in your car to pay for bridge and highway tolls records your travel
  • the swipe cards we use to get in and out of our office buildings monitor your comings and goings

Private information is collected by databases and available for analysis. In the not too distant future, perhaps the information collected will be used to answer these types of questions:

  • Did you go to an anti-war rally on Tuesday?
  • A small meeting to plan the rally the week before?
  • At the house of one “Bob Jackson”?
  • Did you walk into an abortion clinic?
  • Did you see an AIDS counselor?
  • Have you been checking into a motel at lunchtimes?
  • Why was your secretary with you?
  • Did you skip lunch to pitch a new invention to a VC? Which one?
  • Were you the person who anonymously tipped off safety regulators about the rusty machines?
  • Did you and your VP for sales meet with ACME Ltd on Monday?
  • Which church do you attend? Which mosque? Which gay bars?
  • Who is my ex-girlfriend going to dinner with?

Years ago, private investigators would be hired to track people. Information collection was expensive and time consuming. Now, it’s cheap and unobtrusive.  Read the report so that you are aware of the ubiquity of tracking and monitoring devices.

Entry filed under: Privacy, Surveillance society. Tags: , .

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