by Bill Rounds: Transactional
We already know that the government and private entities collect
a vast amount of personal data about our everyday activities.
Previously I commented about the dangers and intrusion of private
entities maintaining transactional
databases and having access to this wealth of personal information.
It is also dangerous and intrusive for government entities to have
access to this information without meeting the requirements for
warrant. Critical to understanding why it is dangerous for governments
to have this information is knowing how it is collected and what
they are doing with it.
Governments Conduct Surveillance On Citizens
Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, CALEA,
was enacted some years ago to make sure that law enforcement has
the ability to conduct surveillance on all types of activity, including
electronic communication. This law requires providers of communication
services to be able to keep track of a wide range of data on phone
calls, internet usage and other financial and personal activity.
banking, there are thousands of private entities which maintain
detailed records of the transactions you make with them. Search
engines keep track of the terms you search for, your credit card
keeps track of all purchases and returns, your grocery store can
keep track of the food you buy, and so on. In many cases the data
that is collected is simply aggregated and does not immediately
identify the individuals in the transactions. Sometimes the data
identifies the parties involved in the transactions. The volume
of data collected permits the identity of individuals involved in
an isolated transaction to be easily identified, even if the data
has been aggregated anonymously.
authorities will often request the aggregated data from these private
companies. There are thousands of private entities that voluntarily
produce this information. Others will wait for a court order like
a warrant or a subpoena to produce any records. Fortunately Google,
one of the largest collectors of personal information, generally
does not voluntarily produce this data.
Do Governments Do With The Surveillance Information They Collect?
information is often analyzed by law enforcement software to create
profiles of individuals. Your Facebook page, purchasing habits,
hobbies and taste in movies along with other records are carefully
scrutinized and analyzed.
of this information, surveillance cameras, facial recognition technology,
emotional recognition technology and other real-time access to information
allows for incredibly detailed profiling of the public. Government
entities can and do use the personal information they collect to
map out social networks, identify behavioral tendencies and to identify
potentially undesirable individuals.
touching on the Constitutional issue of such profiling, looking
at how politicians in the US have targeted
their political rivals, we can see the great potential for abuse
of this information by those in power who might have a bias against
someone’s political, social or filmatic preference.
Always Outpaces The Law
v. Maryland permitted law enforcement to gather some kinds of
data, in this case phone numbers dialed, without a warrant. The
Court probably did not foresee how this kind of data could be used,
when gathered in large quantities, to profile and identify individuals
on a massive scale. Applying the principle of Smith to the modern
era, there is almost no space left for our own private life. The
ability to use these technologies stretches the boundaries of what
many people are comfortable with disclosing to others.
there have been far fewer opportunities and a much higher cost to
gather information about private personal activities. Only if you
were suspected of a serious crime would there be sufficient resources
allocated to your surveillance. Now it is extremely cheap and requires
little effort to gather this information, so there is no need to
suspect you of a crime to perform detailed surveillance. The detailed
analysis of your personal life, your private associations, your
habits, hobbies and traits is made possible by the powerful analysis
of aggregated data collected from public and private agencies. Given
the power to identify, profile and track individuals this data analysis
capability has created, gathering this information is like conducting
a warrantless search, which is contrary to the Constitutional principles
of protection from unreasonable searches of persons, papers and
affects by the government.
To avoid having
such detailed profiling of yourself and others, make your financial
transactions more anonymous, use anonymous
web surfing tools, use anonymous telephone techniques and share
these tools with your friends and family. It is not even necessary
to use these tools all the time to achieve a moderate level of privacy
in some areas of your life. The book, How
To Vanish, contains many, many tools that can be tailored
and modified to the needs of almost anyone to achieve maximum privacy
protection to fit your needs. This data mining can also lead to
unfavorable taxing events if you do not take care to properly establish
your tax domicile.
is also at risk if you do not take steps to protect it.
with permission from How to
Rounds, J.D. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting
from the University of Utah and a law degree from California
Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic
and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal
defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and
financial freedom and civil liberties. This is merely one article
of 73 by Bill