While much of the Petraeus story focuses on the government’s email snooping powers, non-profit news organization ProPublica reminds cellphone users that Big Brother has their numbers, too. So to speak:
“The guest lists from hotels, IP [computer] login records, as well as the creative request to email providers for ‘information about other accounts that have logged in from this IP address’ are all forms of data that the government can obtain with a subpoena. There is no independent review, no check against abuse, and further, the target of the subpoena will often never learn that the government obtained data.”
It’s not just email. In July, Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, cajoled major cellphone carriers into disclosing the number of requests for data that they receive from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies: In 2011, there were more than 1.3 million requests. As ProPublica reported at the time, “Police obtain court orders for basic subscriber information so frequently that some mobile phone companies have established websites — here’s one — with forms that police can fill out in minutes. The Obama Administration’s Department of Justice has said mobile phone users have ‘no reasonable expectation of privacy.'”
There’s a particularly cruel irony in all of this: If you contact your cell-phone carrier or Internet service provider or a data broker and ask to be provided with the information on you that they provide to the government and other companies, most of them will refuse or make you jump through Defcon levels of hops, skips, and clicks. Uncle Sam or Experian can easily access data that shows where you have been, whom you have called, what you have written, and what you have bought — but you do not have the same privileges.
Hat Tip: BoingBoing