Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Flush Your Cell Phone. Do It Now.

Digby asks What if Big Brother is Your Crazy Brother-in-Law?
Everyone says the good news about the NSA spying is that they assure us that they have no interest in using all the information they're filing away about Americans. Unless we are a terrorist or know someone who is a terrorist or know someone who knows someone who might be a terrorist, (or might accidentally be overheard committing what someone might think is a crime) we have nothing to fear from all this surveillance.

Well, maybe not from the NSA, at least not this afternoon.  But they aren't the only game in town:
The National Security Agency isn't the only government entity secretly collecting data from people's cellphones. Local police are increasingly scooping it up, too. Armed with new technologies, including mobile devices that tap into cellphone data in real time, dozens of local and state police agencies are capturing information about thousands of cellphone users at a time, whether they are targets of an investigation or not, according to public records obtained by USA TODAY and Gannett newspapers and TV stations. 
The records, from more than 125 police agencies in 33 states, reveal: About one in four law-enforcement agencies have used a tactic known as a "tower dump," which gives police data about the identity, activity and location of any phone that connects to the targeted cellphone towers over a set span of time, usually an hour or two. A typical dump covers multiple towers, and wireless providers, and can net information from thousands of phones.
In most states, police can get many kinds of cellphone data without obtaining awarrant, which they'd need to search someone's house or car. Privacy advocates, legislators and courts are debating the legal standards with increasing intensity as technology — and the amount of sensitive information people entrust to their devices — evolves.

Many people aren't aware that a smartphone is an adept location-tracking device. It's constantly sending signals to nearby cell towers, even when it's not being used. And wireless carriers store data about your device, from where it's been to whom you've called and texted, some of it for years.

The power for police is alluring: a vast data net that can be a cutting-edge crime-fighting tool. 
And they're collecting boatloads of it:
Law-enforcement records show police can use initial data from a tower dump to ask for another court order for more information, including addresses, billing records and logs of calls, texts and locations. 
Cellphone data sweeps fit into a broadening effort by police to collect and mine information about people's activities and movements. 
Police can harvest data about motorists by mining toll-road payments, red-light cameras and license-plate readers. Cities are installing cameras in public areas, some with facial-recognition capabilities, as well as Wi-Fi networks that can record the location and other details about any connecting device.
It is, unsurprisingly, being misused by local yahoos for their own purposes:
Some examples of documented misuse of cellphone data-gathering technology: 
In Minnesota: State auditors found that 88 police officers in departments across the state misused their access to personal data in the state driver's license database to look up information on family, friends, girlfriends or others without proper authorization or relevance to any official investigation in 2012. And those were just the clear-cut cases. Auditors said that more than half of the law enforcement officers in the state made questionable queries of the database, which includes photos and an array of sensitive personal data.  

It isn't just Big Brother who's watching our every move. It's our crazy brother-in-law too. Just casually accepting this seems like a bad idea to me.

All that information is from a major USA Today and Gannet investigation that everyone should read. I get that  most people don't see this as any big deal --- they've seen it used on Law and order and it caught "the bad guy."  But in real life this adds up to the police having access to a whole lot of personal information without any probable cause or a warrant and that adds up to way more power in the hands of police.  And they already have too much.

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