Sunday, January 10, 2010


Have you ever had the feeling you were being watched? Do you ever wonder why you

can't just go off somewhere by yourself without everyone else knowing where you are? Do

you ever simply need to be away from the prying eyes of the world? In times past, some might

have said you were paranoid; but in today's world lack of privacy is the status quo.

Do you own a cell phone? Over the last year, according to Talking Points Memo, law

enforcement agencies have obtained eight million GPS readings on the location of Sprint

wireless customers. Thousands of customers (you?) were targeted by police and federal

agencies which enabled them to determine the location of that cell phone at any time.

Interested in a new car? Many new models come equipped with a calling feature which

can tell if you have been in an accident, help you navigate, find you a restaurant, open your

car door if you lost the key, and even start your car remotely. This feature is used by some

car rental companies to monitor how fast you drive and where you go.

Do you love your children enough to be concerned for their safety? Parents in some

areas have available to them the technology and the legal right to have a chip inserted under

the skin of their child's arm. This would enable the authorities to track the child in case of

a kidnapping. Parents can also track their children on their home computers by way of the

child's cell phone. No more cutting class for little Billy or Susy; but as we already know,

children have no privacy rights.

I have wondered for a long time about cell phones. After watching NCIS and other TV

shows and movies, by now everyone should know cell phones can be tracked. One expert

said the only way to prevent such tracking is to remove your cell phone's battery when not

using it. Navigation systems and emergency calling services should also be a red flag to those

concerned about privacy. By buying this feature (and I suspect even if you didn't subscribe)

you open yourself up to being tracked and watched by numerous government agencies and

under circumstances you could never imagine; police are definitely not shy about using these

electronic leashes to find and follow you.

But here's the big question. Is your privacy important to you? Are you concerned about

not having the privacy to travel where you wish without everyone knowing what you are doing?

Do you consider this a welcome evolution in security and safety or a malevolent erosion of

our ability to avoid prying eyes compliments of our government? If you aren't doing anything

wrong, why worry, right? If you are innocent, the government and law enforcement agencies

are no threat to you, correct? No, you are tragically wrong!

If you are shocked by the fact that innocent Americans liberty is at risk, let me ask you

this: What kind of safeguards exist to protect you from government or law enforcement

surveillance? Actually, you have almost NO protection. Take a moment to let that sink in.

With the passage of the Patriot Act, which was just reauthorized at the beginning of December,

your government has virtual carte blanche to track you because our government's definition

of "terrorism" is so broad that none of us is above suspicion of terrorism. Check it out.

Telecom companies cooperated with the government's desire to read your email, listen to

your cell phone, monitor your whereabouts; and they don't even need a court order. When

the public watchdogs found out about this travesty of privacy, our Congress came back and

granted the companies immunity from any liability if at some later date they are sued for

opening up their customer's lives to government scrutiny. The sad fact is, every level of

government has at one time or another spied on anti-war groups, environmental activists,

anti-establishment political organizations, and anyone else they consider security risks or

politically opposed to those currently in power. That was BEFORE the Patriot Act was passed

years ago! Things are much worse since the passage of the Patriot Act. Reports have surfaced

about spying on constitutionally protected activities by numerous government and law

enforcement agencies. What was illegal is now legal, thanks to the Patriot Act.

There are many people I know who blow off concerns about privacy. They believe we lost

the last vestiges of privacy a long time ago and the genie can't be put back in the bottle. You

have no privacy, they say. Get over it. There is nothing you can do about it. This attitude is

usually expressed right up until someone mentions a national ID card; since we have no

privacy anyway, why worry about a national data system which would do the final slam dunk

on tracking where you go, what you buy, when you fly, what you say, what you think, or

anything else they might want to know. Everything! No privacy ever again, finished!

So I ask you, when you look at that cool iPhone or Droid phone, when you think about

buying the car with the On-Star system in it, or when you carry your BlackBerry; are you

troubled at what you are surrendering? Will you take the battery out of your cell phone

when you aren't using it? And how about that cool car with the onboard GPS navigation

system or electronic monitor?

Some whine it's too late. The barn door is gone and the horses are in the next county.

How could we ever hope to put things right? The technology is so ubiquitous, so convenient,

and accepted that existing without it might be hard. Granted, this is true. So now more than

ever, we need safeguards to protect us from abuse by the government, law enforcement, and

rich and powerful interests. Today, very few safeguards exist. Legislation to protect you

doesn't exist in most states; and what does exist is outdated and inadequate given the rapid

advance of technology and the pathetic fear that anyone among us could be a terrorist.

If you're not convinced what I'm saying is true, ask your cell phone company about their

policy concerning cooperating with government or law enforcement. Ask GM or the other

auto companies if they will track you when asked by the government. Ask a lawyer if your

travel records can be subpoenaed in a divorce case to see where you were and when you were

there (they can already subpoena records of electronic toll devices used on bridges and toll

roads). Ask yourself if there is potential for all of this tracking to be abused. But you already

know the answer to that question.

Take a moment to mourn the death of the Forth Amendment...silence...(Note: With the

death of the Fourth Amendment, free speech, the freedom of association, and the freedom of

thought ended in America...and the prisons began to fill. Welcome to the new era of "freedom"

as defined by your friend and willing protector, Big Brother. Welcome to twenty-first century

America.) What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

1 comment:

  1. Hey Bernie -
    A few points.

    It takes a minimum of two separate recievers to get a position on any radio transmitter. In case of cell towers if the cell phone can only be seen by one cell tower (as is usually the case - there is not a lot of reason for the cell companies to put 2 tower up in each cell) all you really know is that the phone is in the area. It might be possible to get a bearing using one tower, but certainly not a range. If a cell phone could be seen by two towers it would possible to get a position fix. Someone would have to want to pretty bad.

    But for the most part most cellphones have a hard time being seen by one tower - there are massive dead spots still in the bay area.

    So assuming most cellphone are only seen by one tower at time, whats this difference between that and the old "exchange" from the wireline days? (Remember KLondike numbers? - you knew that number was in SF). Back then if you knew the exchange, you knew the area where the phone was located.

    There are many, many laws that protect the content of our voice communications. Someone has to really want you to get access to your voice and text (not email) communications.

    Don't confuse anonymity with privacy. Two totally different things. It is true our society is becoming less anonymous, but we are jealously guarding our privacy.

    Case in point - divorce lawyers often want the phone records. They can't get the content of the phone messages, but they do demonstrate the "traffic" patterns. A lot of calls to a phone number and...well you know.

    That's the way it's always been. I do think while we are becoming less anonymous, we are becoming more private.

    Thank god we don't have party lines anymore. Remember those?

    Hope you are staying well.

    A slightly right of center former listener.