EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 12, 2014

Column: It's time to take the fight to Big Brother


1. Your email content (not just the address of the recipient) on some servers is routinely scanned -- searched for key words. Google has acknowledged that Gmail messages have been scanned by machines, not humans, so users can get pop-up ads about topics of interest. If you write a friend about body building, you may soon get health product ads. Write about an immigration concern and you may get an immigration attorney’s ad.

2. Your Internet searches are being tracked and stored on some search engines. When you search how to make a cake or a nuclear bomb, or want to see a rhinoceros’ horn or recreational porn -- you may get ads aimed at your search content.

3. Your smartphone may be outsmarting you -- some features enable your phone carrier to know your location at all times.

That last theme -- police seeking to track a suspect by putting a device on his car -- led to a now-famous Supreme Court concurring opinion. In the 2012 case of U.S. v. Jones, Justice Sonia Sotomayor transcended the specific issue and wrote, most presciently:

“It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties. This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”

You are here: Each of those invasions is far more intrusive than NSA’s storage of metadata. In all three examples, we endure blatant invasions of our privacy because we are considered to have given our consent. Sometimes consent is required to use the service. Other times, companies just make it very difficult to opt out.

Now ask: Can a government agency someday gain access to those private computer and cell phone company records? Can a prospective employer (government or private) someday check your computer search records to see whether you searched for something spelled with three X’s?

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