Forfeiting Our Anonymity – New Dangers of the Cell Phone Era
February 11, 2010 — BFDN: Op Ed
Tomorrow, a federal appeals court will hear oral arguments in a case that could establish new standards for tracking the whereabouts of Johnny T. Everymann’s cell phone. Providing no support to the average American’s right to privacy in this case is the Obama administration, who have stated on this matter that Americans have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” when it comes to the location of their cellular communication devices.
The argument is that, in an age where nearly every American adult has a mobile phone, the “government” and law enforcement agencies should have access to information regarding where you were when you made, received, or missed a phone call; when you sent a text message to your brother; when you tweeted about the weather in Tampa when you were really in Anchorage; when you checked the weather in Anchorage when you were in Wichita.
And, in case you’re wondering about the validity of my saying that “nearly every American adult” has a mobile phone, the actual numbers are staggering. Out of 309 million people, there were 277 million active cell phones in these United States. Can’t divide in the millions? Here’s a hint: drop the 6 zeros, you’ll get the same answer. Okay, still can’t do long division in your head? I’ll tell ya – that’s 90% of Americans with cell phones. Comparatively, only 81% of individuals have their own television (252 million units in use).
Did you (or more likely your paranoid uncle) ever look at the TV screen and wonder if there was a tiny little camera on the other side of that glass, recording your every move and sending it to a massive database somewhere, dumping hundreds of hours of footage into a file labeled “EVERYMANN, Jonathon Tyrone”? Well, even if it were true, it would only divulge what you do on your couch – perhaps we’d all be more than a little embarrassed if our file was leaked, but your TV doesn’t follow you when you leave home.
Your cell phone does.
Of course, we’ll be assured that this will only be used in cases where all other options have been exhausted in the apprehension of criminals, and law abiding citizens will never be exploited. After all, the government has a good track record for safeguarding our privacy and keeping promises, hey?
I don’t like it one bit. It scares me almost as much as the REAL ID Act did, when rumors popped up that we would all have to adopt federal ID cards with GPS devices and microchips inside of them, and if we were stopped randomly and were not carrying the card on our person we’d get water boarded.
I have a problem with the argument that states, “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to fear.” These are the people who declare that we all ought to submit to random searches when we enter a grocery store, who think that police ought to be able to pull us over without reason, who agree that the authorities have the right to come into our homes without a warrant, that our public schools should have the authority to drug test the entire student body on a regular basis. I have a big problem with this kind of thinking. This ideology eventually broadens until we can all be arrested and detained indefinitely without cause, convicted without evidence. And anyway, don’t I have a right to absolute and complete privacy, especially if I haven’t done anything to warrant attention?
Wanting to remain inconspicuous is not a crime; it’s not even an admission of guilt. Furthermore, what happens when the system, even when it is being used in the most altruistic way, fails us? When it, in fact, facilitates additional risks to our safety? There are myriad possibilities, and I’ve just cooked up an example:
Edna is 16. She works at a car wash after school and on the weekends. After saving for a long time, Edna made enough money to buy a 1991 Acura Legend with 146,000 miles for $600. She bought plates, had it registered and insured. She also bought a pay-as-you-go Kyocera Domino from MetroPCS. The cell phone cost her $29 after a mail-in rebate, and her MetroPCS rate is $40 per month for unlimited talk, text, and web. The car and the cell phone don’t only allow her to enjoy some freedoms that come with being a teenager; the car on the open road and a phone to connect with friends after school is a very important means of escape. You see, Edna is being abused at home.
She lives with her grandparents. Her grandmother is abusive, and her grandfather is elderly and suffering from dementia. Throughout the years, Child Protective Services has been called on her behalf by concerned persons. On at least two occasions, Edna has called the police on her grandmother herself. The local police and social services have not done their job in preventing the continuing abuse.
Edna, finally feeling she has no other choice, runs away from home. She pulls her Acura out of the driveway and slips away into the night. By the time her grandmother realizes Edna’s gone and hasn’t answered any calls on her cell phone, she calls the police and reports her granddaughter as missing. Fortunately for Edna, a new life is on the horizon, and she is already two hundred miles away.
Before she gets too far, however, the authorities track her location for every call she missed from her grandmother. They create a clear cut line across I-80. The police find her in Iowa and return her home. Her grandmother, in an evil fit of rage, murders Edna.
While this may not be the best example, it is an example nonetheless. I could go on and on about this, but I think by now you catch my drift: this is dangerous. Yet another reason why I don’t trust cellular phones, and if this passes, I may make a habit of traveling with the battery disconnected from the unit. After all, the government is listening to your every word through your cell phone’s microphone even when you think it’s turned off. If you don’t believe that data is being transmitted when your device isn’t set to ON, think a little more about why a buzzing sound comes through the television speakers when you set your phone close by.
So, I propose to turn the Comments below into an open forum; not to argue about this issue, because I’m not interested in hearing dissent. Rather, let it be a forum for inventing more examples of what could happen if this were to pass. If we collect a large enough variety of examples, we can publish a book and use it to win our anonymity back.
Submitting everyone in the country to random searches directly violates the “guilty until proven innocent” catch phrase that is burned into the brains of every judge worth a moral damn.
While it’s always hard to believe that the government is capable of funding and manning a surveillance web that would closely monitor every citizen at every moment, it does allow the government to store a vast, trash heap of knowledge that everyone from the bored to classified can peruse.
The fact that some bored NSA operative with a wireless connection might be reading through my text messages out of sheer boredom is almost more disturbing then an all, knowing, all seeing government that has the capacity and the will to fully enforce its laws.
Part of the problem is people not only simply accept the invasion, but also partake in keeping tabs on one another. Mobile communication technology makes people feel that when they cannot get in contact with someone almost immediately, there is some problem. I’ve witnessed people freak out because someone didn’t text or call them back within, say a two minute period. And we’re talking about people that appear to be quite lucid and rational except for this obsession with ‘communication.’ The constant flow of the virtual and digital worlds can lead to a degradation in quality of the thoughts expressed, while the quantity of these thoughts continues to rise.
But I digress. We’re looking for examples where people’s personal liberties are offered up as a sacrifice to appease the faceless demigods of technology and government.
Roger is a young man in his early twenties, struggling to get a college degree. He’s pretty smart, but can’t seem to find a career path calling out to him. He works for Student Life on campus, helping at various social events, and is personable and well-liked among his peers. He is an avid outdoorsman, and finds a sense of solace in venturing out into wilderness areas located on some state or federal land a couple hours drive from his campus to hike and camp.
Occasionally he finds the need to skip class and immerse himself in nature. While he ventures out to get away from the hustle and bustle, he still brings his phone with him, just in case something were to happen.
One afternoon, he decides his physics and business courses can wait, and makes his drive. The next class period he shows up, and makes up a story about being sick with the flu, and bedridden. Yes, a lie, but only a white one. He still was taking what some call a ‘mental health day,’ and probably got more out of his hike than his classmates did out of the lectures.
One of his professors notices what he sees as a disturbing trend in absences, and decides to take some action. He calls Roger’s parents, and they and the administration look at the dates he was absent and look at the texts he received and are able to track his location, a good 100 miles from campus. After a hearing, he is made an example of, and his expelled from the institution.
Unable to cope with this disgrace, coupled with unpaid student loans and with no decent job opportunities, Roger decides to take his own life. Great job team, we’ve kept the integrity of higher learning in place, and have managed to quash the spirit and body of someone who could have gone on to lead the crusade in support of wildlife and nature’s beauty.
This is clearly a dangerous dilemma in more ways than one. Suppose the government does implement a nationwide system of tracking our every move through our mobile devices. How many government-fearing Americans will retreat backwards more than a decade by boycotting the use of cellular devices all together?!
For instance… Like many other innocent citizens, Blake Lakelsy immediately dropped his cellphone plan upon learning the government’s tracking system initiative. He hooked up the ol’ land line phone and dusted off the archaic answering machine. However, he was soon laid off from his position at Atlanta Thread and Supply. Having to make ends meet somehow, Blake sewed and knitted small clothing articles to sell outside the local Walmart. Not having his own sewing equipment, however, he had to pull some strings for permission to use the university’s sewing labs (they have those, right?). Sadly enough, because he spent his days sewing outside his home, Blake was unable to quickly return calls he had received for substantial job interviews. By the time Blake did, the job had been filled by a qualified, cellphone-carrying job seeker. And when he could no longer afford AA batteries his answering machine went out of commission. He continued to miss more and more calls. The worst was when Blake found out about his mother’s death a week after the funeral!
Blake is currently homeless. He migrated south and now wanders the Florida coasts offering yarn-sewn socks and BJ’s under the boardwalks.
The government already has some pretty scary tracking programs in place. Just look at what happened in Gotham, using all the cell phones to create a sonar-network, to not only keep tabs on any given citizen, but also keep a record of their conversations. Sure, Wayne Enterprises claims that the only prototype has been safely destroyed, but the fact that the device is given a lot of screen time in the documentary The Dark Knight has brought quite da ruckus to the Community of Radically Agitated and Concerned Karma-minded People Organized to Tame Society (CRACKPOTS). The group puts forth the argument that given the footage of the actual device, someone with a basic understanding of mechanical and computer engineering could replicate the necessary components to create at least a Sweded version of this horror.
And I for one, am against that. As such, I would like for BfD to create a petition banning Mr. Nolan’s The Dark Knight and the rest of his Batman saga from public consumption for the greater good. Thank you.
Here’s an article of Newsweek that touches on what’s already becoming standard operating procedure in cell phone tracking.
Cell phones will transform the planet if they are accessible to every person monetarily. Think about every man and women, possessing a individual cellular phone; By the Way, I favor this website. I uncovered it on Msn. I might come back and read some more.