Archive for the Privacy Category

Mandatory GPS Is On The Way, Are You Ready?

Posted in Class issues, Privacy on December 1, 2012 by admin

Of all the most outlandish, ill-conceived plans to reach print, the Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) plan to charge per mile driven is one of the most insidious threats. The idea is dangerous on several levels. We can count the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transit Commission as the latest entity to seek to implement this scheme. In addition to being another money-grab by institutions that have yet to show they are fiscally responsible with the funds they already take, both our freedoms and our privacy are at stake.

Under this scheme, your car would no longer be a private vehicle. The plan is to attach a GPS type device to your car so ‘they’ can track your mileage. Beyond the fact that they get to invade the privacy of your vehicle, they then get to follow the driver of your car throughout the day, every day. The whereabouts of the driver (typically YOU) of your vehicle will be tracked on a grid, detailed, logged and analyzed. Your patterns and habits will be recorded and entered into a database that will reveal all sorts of information. Information ranging from where you usually buy your gas, to where you shop most often to whom you typically visit will be accessible in a report or graph that aids in creating a profile of your very life. Of course, the official story as related by the Congressional Budget Office is that there are proposals limiting the amount and type of information collected. Yeah, Riiiiight.

On the national level, another factor to consider would be the relative development of the various regions of the country. As mentioned by John Ellis in his 2011 article, people in areas with more developed public transit, who drive less anyway, would pay more than people who live in rural areas with less public transit. According to a study being carried out by the state of Nevada, currently 16 states have ongoing or concluded studies of VMT proposals .

Furthermore, this scheme is an assault on your freedom because it is a class issue. Although there are some comments on the very poor being excluded, who gets to choose the cut-off between the very poor and the poor? How is the decision between who is very poor and who is not to be made? Obviously, the upper and middle classes will be able to afford to drive more often, so they will enjoy more freedom to move about the city, state, region, or what have you. The lower middle class and the upper lower classes will be squeezed the hardest. To paraphrase South Bay cabbie Kevin Spencer, working class people would have to choose between their mortgage and driving .

Who is Watching You? Everybody!!!

Posted in Privacy on July 14, 2012 by admin

Terrorism is usually the word that justifies all kinds of violations of privacy and personal rights. The problem is that the opportunity for abuse is coupled with a society that is full of all kinds of bias and discrimination. Even worse are the situations where the decision about who is being suspicious is given over to a computer . AIsight is software created by a company called BRS Labs, documents and catalogues actions and behaviors of persons observed by your typical surveillance cameras. Based on a set of parameters in a computer program, and individual is flagged for suspicious behavior. Part of the problem is that personal attitudes and biases can enter into the parameters (ie, how dark is the person’s complexion). We have already seen the use of wearing a hoodie as an indicator of criminal activity by a Black person.

For those who would argue that these concerns are only suppositions, they are naïve, in denial and uninformed. Police routinely use cell phones to track people, and misuse of the system has already been acknowledged. To quote the New York Times article, “One police training manual describes cellphones as ‘the virtual biographer of our daily activities,’ providing a hunting ground for learning contacts and travels.” Furthermore, “law enforcement officials said the legal questions were outweighed by real-life benefits.” Lastly, “In Nevada, a training manual warned officers that using cell tracing to locate someone without a warrant ‘IS ONLY AUTHORIZED FOR LIFE-THREATENING EMERGENCIES!!’ The practice, it said, had been ‘misused’ in some standard investigations to collect information the police did not have the authority to collect. ‘Some cell carriers have been complying with such requests, but they cannot be expected to continue to do so as it is outside the scope of the law,” the advisory said. “Continued misuse by law enforcement agencies will undoubtedly backfire.’” The article also comments on the ability of police to download text messages from phones that aren’t even turned on.

There are serious concerns regarding the privacy that we all used to enjoy. Some might argue that loss of that privacy is the price we pay for an interconnected world. Some might argue that since the world is interconnected, all spaces, places and communications are public. However, the core of the Fourth Amendment  to the US Constitution is the existence of privacy. The Fourth Amendment does not make distinction between what is public or private; if it belongs to you it is private and protected form search and seizure without probable cause. These rights must be fought for rigorously because they are easier to protect than they are to get returned once taken away.

Do You See What I See? Big Brother Does!

Posted in Privacy on July 14, 2012 by admin

Your YouTube and Vimeo video clips often provide more information than you may have intended. You may see a guy walking past in the background of your video shot, but others see that as documenting where that person was. The neilsen  produced a paper in 2011 documenting the buying power of African Americans . According to the paper, 23.9 million African Americans were online in the month of July 2011 alone; and most were on social networking/blog sites. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect that a fair amount of video uploads took place during those several millions of site visits.


Agencies such as Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) agency are working hard to piece together your uploaded videos to create a panorama that can be used to observe and identify individuals. An article I read in the print version of July 2012 edition of Popular Science  called Over Seen  provides details regarding the work of these groups to use data from civilian video uploads and surveillance video from domestic drones. Combining this data with off the shelf biometric technology, they can identify an individual and track their movements. They are currently seeking ways to identify the location of the camera (i.e., where YOU are) based on images in the video that you record. So Big Brother can not only follow someone in your video, they can know when and where you are when you shoot the video.


Uploading videos is certainly a fun way to share your experiences. However, every shred of information you provide must be scrutinized and reviewed to insure that you share only what you want to share.