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The U.S. PATRIOT Act in 2001 was a very controversial piece of legislation to begin with – giving the executive branch of the U.S. government and a number of related institutions sweeping powers to wire-tap, search, and demand personal data and communication information from a wide range of sources – often in direct violation of long-standing laws and civil liberties protected by the U.S. constitution.
Since then, the U.S. government has been accessing private records of banks, insurances, telecom companies, health care providers, and many more, mining vast amounts of sensitive data from potentially hundreds of millions of people in America in the process – with little or no democratic oversight or checks and balances.
Yeah, OK, that’s in America – not here, right? Think again.
First, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is a secret version of the PATRIOT Act – the way the U.S. Department of Justice is interpreting the law, which appears significantly more invasive and far-reaching than many lawmakers and the public have been lead to believe. And, because it’s classified, there is no public discussion over the true extent of the law or abuses.
Second, it turns out – as Microsoft just recently admitted (and this is true for the entire IT industry) – there is no way for U.S. companies to stop the U.S. authorities from applying the PATRIOT Act to all subsidiaries of U.S. companies worldwide. This means, essentially, that the U.S. is riding rough shot over the sovereign data and privacy protection laws of foreign countries.
Pretty much any data that is stored or processed by a subsidiary of a U.S. company and falls within the PATRIOT Act, anywhere in the world, can be demanded and collected by U.S. authorities at any time and without your knowledge, in direct violation of the laws of your own country. Mind you, this does not only apply to U.S. citizens. It applies to everyone.
Hard to believe? Yes. But the more you dig into it, the worse it gets.
Apple, after a week of silence, has responded to concerns about the iOS4 tracking issue by posting the “Apple Q&A on Location Data” (for background information, see my post “Stranger than fiction: Apple’s iOS4 is tracking your moves”).
I think Apple is doing the right thing, although several question remain unanswered.
In particular, I find it hard the believe that this was simply ‘a software bug’ that went undetected for months. After all, we’re talking about Apple and this is an important feature. You got to ask how this one could slip by them.
However, if they were aware of the issue, then how could they not disclose it to their users?
I don’t know the answer, but for now I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.
See also Larry Magid’s article “Apple’s iPhone doublespeak”.
There is little surprise that Google, too, is tracking your location – after all, that’s key for a company which derives the vast majority of its revenue from targeted advertising.
At least Google is mostly upfront about it while Apple seemingly has decided to go incommunicado on the topic (see my blog: “Stranger than fiction: Apple’s iOS4 is tracking your moves”).
Now, with all that location data and other personal (email, friends, pictures, etc) information being constantly tracked, stored, and analyzed – why would you care?
As far as I am concerned, it boils down to overreaching lawmakers and overzealous law enforcement as well as criminal activity (Wired Magazine has a good article on the topic). Historically, for a number of different groups of people, this personalized data about you and your life has just been too tempting to leave alone.
Think it can’t happen to you? Check out these recent incidents.
Sometimes, real life is stranger than fiction.
Recently, I blogged about how the German operator Deutsche Telekom tracked and stored the location and activities of the cell phone of German politician Malte Spitz for months (“Betrayed By Our Own Data”).
Now, it turns out, Apple’s iOS4 is doing the same . Continuously logging the location of your iOS4 device, in the background and without your knowledge. In plain view for all to see on the phone and any computer you’ve synced your device with.
I’m not sure what to make of this. But at the very, very least Apple should have told iOS4 users in bold letters it is doing this and protect the information against 3rd party access.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Apple handle this one.
Find video surveillance intrusive? Uncomfortable with tracking of your web surfing habits? Your provider sifting through your email? Mining of your personal data without your approval or even knowledge?
How about your every movement being tracked, stored, and analyzed? Well, chances are your cell phone and operator are doing that, too. Only normally, you never see it happen.
But German politician Malte Spitz got hold of this cell-phone data. 6 months worth, 35831 data points. And he decided to publish it – to demonstrate just how invasive even everyday technology can be.
The German magazine ‘Die Zeit’ has this english-language article – a great read. But what’s even more fascinating is that the data was turned into an interactive visualization. It’s in German, but all you need to do is to click on the ‘play’ button. You’ll see Spitz’ phone being tracked across Germany, with timing and duration of calls and Internet connections, including linkage to his tweets and blog entries.
Here is a New York Times article on the same topic.
YOU are being watched, too … right now.