Surveillance is everywhere: yes, you are being watched, even if no one is looking for you

The United States has the most surveillance cameras per person in the world. Cameras are ubiquitous on city streets and in hotels, restaurants, malls and offices. They are also used to screen passengers for the Transportation Security Administration. And then there is smart doorbells and other home security cameras.

Most Americans are familiar with video surveillance of public spaces. Likewise, most people are familiar with online tracking – and want Congress to do something about it. But as a researcher who studies digital literacy and secret communicationsI believe that to understand how ubiquitous surveillance is, it is important to recognize how physical and digital tracking work together.

Databases can correlate smartphone location datathe growing number of private cameras, license plate readers on police cars and toll roads, and facial recognition technology, so if law enforcement wants to know where you are and where you’ve been, they can. They need a warrant to use cell phone search equipment: connection of your device to a forensic tool for mobile device allows them to extract and analyze all your data if they have a warrant.

However, private data brokers also track this type of data and help monitor citizens – without warrant. There is a large market for personal data, compiled from information people provide voluntarily, information people provide involuntarily – for example, through mobile apps – and information stolen during data breaches. Clients of this largely unregulated data include federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

How are you followed

Whether or not you pass under the gaze of a surveillance camera or a license plate reader, you are being tracked by your mobile phone. GPS tells weather or map apps your location, Wi-Fi uses your location and cell tower triangulation tracks your phone. Bluetooth can identify and track your smartphone, and not just for COVID-19 contact tracing, Apple’s “Find My” service, or for connecting headphones.

People volunteer their pitches to carpooling or for games like Pokemon Go Where Hallbut applications can also collect and share location without your knowledge. Many late model cars are equipped with telematics that tracks locations – for example, OnStar or Bluelink. All of this makes the opt-out impractical.

The same is true online. Most websites offer third-party ad trackers and cookies, which are stored in your browser each time you visit a site. They identify you when you visit other sites so advertisers can track you. Some websites also use key logging, which monitors what you type into a page before you hit submit. Similarly, Session Recording monitors mouse movements, clicks, scrolling, and typing, even if you don’t click “submit.”

Ad trackers know when you browsed, where, what browser you used, and what your device’s internet address is. Google and Facebook are among the main beneficiaries, but there are many data brokers slice and dice this information by religion, ethnicity, political affiliations, social media profiles, income and medical history for profit.

Big Brother in the 21st Century

People may implicitly consent to some loss of privacy in the interests of perceived or actual security – for example, in stadiums, on the road and at airports, or in exchange for cheaper online services. But these trade-offs benefit individuals much less than the companies that aggregate the data. Many Americans mistrust the government censusesbut they gladly share their jogging routines on apps like Stravawho has revealed sensitive and secret military data.

In the Post-Roe v. Wade legal environmentthere is concerns not only on period tracking applications but about correlate data on physical travel with online research and phone data. Legislation like the recent Texas Senate Bill 8 anti-abortion law invokes ‘private individual enforcement mechanisms’, raising questions about who gets access to tracking data.

In 2019, the Missouri Department of Health stored data on patients’ periods at the state’s only family planning clinic, correlated with state medical records. Communication metadata can reveal who you are in contact with, when you were where and who else was there – whether they are in your contacts or not.

Location data from apps on hundreds of millions of phones allows the Department of Homeland Security follow people. Health portable pose similar risks, and medical experts note a unconscious on the security of the data they collect. Note the resemblance of your Fitbit or smartwatch to the anklets people wear during court-ordered surveillance.

The most common user of tracking in the United States is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which amassed a large amount of information without judicial, legislative or public oversight. Georgetown University Law Center Privacy and Technology Center reported on how ICE researched driver’s license photographs for 32% of all adults in the United States, cars tracked in cities home to 70% of adults, and updated address records for 74% of adults when these individuals activated new ones utility accounts.

No one is watching the watchers

No one expects to be invisible on the streets, at borders or in malls. But who has access to all this surveillance data and how long is it stored? There are no single US privacy law at the federal level, and the states face a patchwork of regulations; only five states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah and Virginia – have privacy laws.

It is possible to limit location tracking on your phone, but not to completely avoid it. Data brokers are supposed to hide your personally identifiable data before selling it. But this “anonymizationdoesn’t make sense since individuals are easily identified by cross-referencing additional data sets. This makes it easy for bounty hunters and stalkers abuse the system.

The greatest risk for most people occurs when there is a data breachwhat happens more often – whether it’s a leaky app or careless Hotel chaina Selling DMV Data or a compromise credit Companyor a data brokerage intermediary of which online storage is hacked.

This illicit flow of data not only puts fuzzy notions of privacy at risk, but can put your addresses and passport numbers, biometrics and social media profiles, credit card numbers and dating profiles, health and insurance information, and more. on sale.

Pierre Krapp is Professor of Film and Media Studies at University of California, Irvine.

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