Data collection: Privacy issue affects left and right

Data collection: Privacy issue affects left and right

By Ellen Ratner   
Published

NEW YORK — When the right and left quote the same research study, you know the U.S. is in trouble.

This week, the Intercept published their research into cyber snooping. The villain here is not just the U.S. government, but also AT&T. The Intercept said, “Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In each of these cities, The Intercept has identified an AT&T facility containing networking equipment that transports large quantities of internet traffic across the United States and the world. A body of evidence – including classified NSA documents, public records, and interviews with several former AT&T employees – indicates that the buildings are central to an NSA spying initiative that has for years monitored billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats passing across U.S. territory.”

Last week California passed a law about cyber spying. Despite businesses such as Facebook selling their data, there are privacy concerns and California addressed them. The bill passed unanimously and gives legal residents of the state of California some actual control on what businesses collect. Unfortunately, it does not control what the federal government does.

California, however, is the first state to actually pass a bill, called the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. There was another bill which was stricter, but it did not see the light of day. According to news reports, the bill does not take effect till 2020, which unfortunately gives plenty of time for the Facebooks of the world to sell off their data. The law allows people in California access to what information is being collected (and given out) about them.

Technology is way beyond what most of us old Boomers ever dreamed of. Recently, a right-winger I knew called to warn me about a relative, as the CIA had information on the person who thought what they were transmitting was private. It wasn’t – and the CIA was collecting it. I have endlessly told my interns they should not write a text or email or anything they don’t want on the front page of the Washington Post. In our age of technology, anything you write or say can be transmitted.

The Supreme Court also handed out a decision near the end of the term that, in order to get someone’s phone records, there needed to be a court order. Unfortunately, as good as that sounds, it is relatively easy for law enforcement to get a court order. It was a 5-4 decision in the case, Carpenter v. United States, and the decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the four liberal justices. It is something the Fourth Amendment should prevent. The court limited its decision to data used to locate someone.

According to the Intercept, last year the government revealed AT&T had been collecting information from one location. Now they have revealed the information was collected at several locations. They have a quote in their most recent article revealing the places AT&T cooperates with the government and collects information.

“‘It’s eye-opening and ominous the extent to which this is happening right here on American soil,’ said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. ‘It puts a face on surveillance that we could never think of before in terms of actual buildings and actual facilities in our own cities, in our own backyards.’”

The Brennan Center for Justice is an organization named after a more liberal justice. Privacy rights are a big question now. If AT&T is finding ways to spy on Americans, we are all in trouble. Not that most of us have anything we want to hide; however, how many of us want our conversations with loved ones or even just friends part of the government record? The access is something most Americans don’t understand, and it has to do with data sharing when a particular site is over capacity. AT&T says they are required by law to provide information to the government; and one agency, according to the Intercept, would not confirm or deny their responsibility in collecting data.

Most of us read the book “1984” way back when we were coming of age. “1984” has to do with surveillance, and we thought it would never come true. If both the left and right are worried about this enough to write articles about data collection at AT&T, then it is something all Americans should be concerned about.

Data collection by our government should stop – without a court order for it to be collected.

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