Discourse / Editorials / May 11, 2011

Thoughts from the Embers: Technology and privacy

In a recent story printed in the Seattle Times, a 20-year-old community college student filed a lawsuit against the FBI for “secretly putting a GPS tracking device on his car,” without acquiring a search warrant.

In the article, the student, Yasir Afifi, said, “The agents never gave him a clear answer as to why he was being monitored,” and continued to insist that he had never done anything that would lead the FBI to need to track him.

While the judges in Afifi’s case have disagreed about whether or not a search warrant should be required to inform someone that they are being tracked by GPS, we at TKS think it is a violation of civil liberties for a search warrant not to be required in the event that someone is tracked. Afifi’s situation is the perfect example of this. The article mentions that he is from Egypt and makes many calls overseas, and is quoted as saying, “So I’m sure I fit their profile.” If no search warrant is required, how can we prevent unnecessary profiling by the FBI in cases such as these?

We must remember that there are two sides to a situation like this. In a world that is constantly being changed by technology, unless we are sure that we can trust governmental agencies to protect our privacy—which, after Afifi’s case, becomes clear that we cannot—we need to become better at first protecting ourselves.

In this generation, in general, we have fallen into practicing bad security habits. A great example of this is the website pleaserobme.com, which aims to raise awareness of “over-sharing” on the Internet. An example the site uses is how commonly people post their locations on Twitter, making it so obvious that they are not at home, meaning it is all the more easy to burgle their houses.

Maybe we should add location to the group of things we are accustomed to protecting on the Internet, along with our names, our phone numbers and Social Security numbers. Even if it is something that you might not personally value, where we are in the world at any given time should still be something we have the option of protecting.

In general, we need to start being more wary of what we make available on the Internet about our personal information. This is not something new. Our generation has grown up with the Internet, with new apps and music sharing, with Twitter and Facebook and Google Buzz. We have almost always been told not to put personal information online, but somehow our general location has never been included in that. We know not to post our address, but we do not think twice about posting that we’ are at a bar or out of town, and we never think about the fact that our mobile devices might lead to us being tracked by a company or by the FBI. Aside from being unsettling, this is a violation of civil liberties, but until companies and the government understand that, we need to make sure we guard our personal information for ourselves.

TKS Staff

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