Personal privacy under constant assault by governments, corporations

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: personal privacy, technology companies, governments

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(NaturalNews) As we have warned often here at NaturalNews, the concept of personal privacy - that quaint, Fourth Amendment constitutional protection that supposedly guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" - is all but gone these days, thanks in large part to the Information and Technology Age.

Just last week, you may recall, Apple, Inc., committed the latest breach of privacy, despite its prior claims of being one of the toughest apps screening tech companies. The company, The New York Times reported, was caught "handing out people's address books as if they were sausage samples on a toothpick at the supermarket."

Since then, believe it or not,, so they could track the online browsing habits and behavior of users.

Pattern of abuse

These latest examples came only after a pattern of similar privacy abuses that have increased in frequency - and, apparently, in acceptance in legal and policymaking circles - over the past few years.

Last May, we reported that Apple iPhones and Google's Android smartphones were spying on its users. Programs used by the phones "regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google," as part of the companies' attempts to build huge databases that will enable them to pinpoint where you are. It was a revelation that Apple, at least, wound up admitting.

In September, The social media giant was caught by an Australian entrepreneur and writer, Nik Cubrilovic, tracking users' online activity, even when they weren't logged into Facebook.

There are scores of other examples as well, but you get the idea.

Placing blame

Without question, the technology companies - Google, Apple, Sony, Facebook - are in large part responsible for the diminishing strength of privacy protections. But, as The New York Times tech writer Nick Bilton says, some of the blame can also be laid at our feet.

"The argument that if consumers care about their privacy they shouldn't use these technologies is a cop-out. This technology is now completely woven into every part of society and business. We didn't tell people who wanted safer cars simply not to drive. We made safer cars," he writes.

The same techniques could, and should, be applied now to technology. Lawmakers and policymakers should be well advised that privacy violations are only going to get worse; to fix the problem, new laws and policies aimed at protecting consumer privacy are likely to be needed, as a way to strengthen and reaffirm the Fourth Amendment.

Going the wrong way

With that said, the privacy pendulum seems to be swinging the wrong way. Just this week a federal appeals court ruled that police don't need a search warrant to search a suspect's cell phone. The court said any evidence that was contained on a cell phone could be deleted or erased so it was "vital" police be allowed to check phones immediately when they make an arrest - no warrant needed. Mind you, a suspect is just that, a suspect who has yet to be convicted of anything.

Christopher N. Olsen, assistant director in the division of privacy and identity protection at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), told The New York Times that with more privacy violations coming, lawmakers will be under increasing pressure to pass legislation protecting citizens.

"Industry should redouble its efforts to focus on privacy issues, or they may face additional pressure in form of legislation from Congress," he said, though clearly industry is primarily the problem. Tech companies seem to be the biggest violators of privacy.

"Companies need to look at privacy issues in terms of consumer needs, baking in privacy by design when building apps, so you're not trying to do it afterwards," Patricia Poss, chief of the mobile technology unit at the FTC, told the Times, as a way to avoid government regulation that could stifle innovation as well.

"They should think about it every step of the way, and really consider privacy at every stage of product development," she said.

We won't hold our breath.

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