You may think you’re carrying a cell phone around in your pocket or purse, but what you’re really carry is a GPS-emitting device that allows you to be tracked–not only where you go, but what you buy, where and when you buy it, how much money you have in the bank, whom you text and e-mail, what websites you visit, and even what time you go to sleep and wake up. And that data is shared with companies that use it to offer you services and items they think you want.
After much resistance, in response to a congressional inquiry, cell phone companies have finally disclosed how many times they’ve given users’ personal data to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Cell phone companies responded to 1.3 million demands for subscribers’ information last year from various law enforcement agencies, and many of these requests do not require search warrants or court approval.
On the Nation of Change website, Megha Rajagopalan explains that law enforcement agencies often ask phone companies for "tower dumps," meaning information from every phone in range of a particular cell tower at a particular time. In cities, where cell towers are located close together, the locations of thousands of people can be swept up in a single request.
In the July 13th edition of the New York Times, Peter Maass and Megha Rajagopalan quote legal expert Paul Ohm as saying, "Every year, private companies spend millions of dollars developing new services that track, store and share the words, movements and even the thoughts of their customers. These invasive services have proved irresistible to consumers, and millions now own sophisticated tracking devices (smartphones) studded with sensors and always connected to the Internet."
They quote information scientist Matt Blaze as saying, "Don’t have a cellphone or just accept that you’re living in the Panopticon." The word means "all-seeing," and refers to an imaginary round-the-clock surveillance machine–something that’s coming closer to reality every day.
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