Friday, November 9, 2007

Big Brother Is Listening to Your Cell Phone Calls

I don't know about you all, but I'm starting to think someone is going to jump out from behind my desk and say "Surprise, you're on candid camera!!" Since we started this blog revelation after revelation indicates that literally, NOTHING, we say or write, isn't somehow being traced or listened in on (or potentially anyway) by our government or corporate overseers.

Even more disturbing, is the fact that representatives in Congress are actually debating whether telecommunication companies should be granted legal immunity for their participation in the administration's warrantless wiretapping program...even as we hear new testimony that a secret room in San Francisco - used by AT&T and our government - allows them to track and monitor nearly all phone or internet traffic in the country!

But wait, there's more! According to an article in the Rutherford Institute, our cell phone conversations are also being listened in on and our positions tracked in new and creative ways.

John W. Whitehead writes:

In an information age where we’re required to hand over confidential information in order to make a purchase, drive a car or visit a doctor’s office, our privacy is being relegated to the junk heap of antiquated, obsolete ideas. Nowhere is this more evident than in the telecommunications industry, where technological breakthroughs that add convenience to our lives are simultaneously giving corporations and government agencies almost unlimited access to our most private moments.


But there’s more. Global Positioning System (GPS) chips, the same technology used in many new cars to help drivers navigate unknown territory, track a cell phone’s every movement in real time. Such technology is marketed to parents as a tool for keeping tabs on their children, to employers as a means of monitoring their employees’ whereabouts, and to young people for social networking so they can track each other down.

Yet despite the sales pitch, not all uses of this technology are benevolent. As journalist Laura Holson explains, “If G.P.S. made it harder to get lost, new cellphone services are now making it harder to hide.” Although this tracking function can be turned off in cell phones, Holson notes that “G.P.S. service embedded in the phone means that your whereabouts are not a complete mystery.”

Attorney Kevin Bankston, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sees this as a serious breach of privacy. “We seem to be getting into a period where people are closely watching each other. There are privacy risks we haven’t begun to grapple with.” Charles S. Golvin, a wireless analyst at Forrester Research, admits that there is a Big Brother component to the use of GPS in wireless phones. “The thinking goes,” he explains, “that if my friends can find me, the telephone company knows my location all the time, too.”

However, if the phone company knows where you are, it stands to reason that the government does as well. Indeed, the rate at which corporations, from banks to retail stores to phone companies, are turning over their customers’ private information to government agents for tracking and spying purposes is staggering. As an ACLU report details, “Many companies are willing to hand over the details of their customers’ purchases or activities based on a simple request from the FBI or other authorities.”

In 2002 alone, Bell South received 16,000 subpoenas from government agents and 636 court orders for customer information. And it’s not just that the requests for customer information are becoming more frequent—they’re also getting broader and have been characterized as “shotgun approaches” or fishing expeditions.

Moreover, the FBI and other government agencies are demanding greater legal authority to be able to force companies—especially cell phone companies—to turn over customer information. “They have pushed for an aggressive interpretation of the statute that would allow it to monitor certain Internet content without a warrant and to collect tracking information about the physical locations of cell phone users,” the ACLU reports, “turning cell phones into what, for all practical purposes, are location tracking bugs.”

Now the Bush Administration is prodding Congress to grant retroactive legal immunity to the telecommunications companies that have allowed government agents access to their customers’ private phone call data. If Congress passes such a law, it would put an end to the dozens of lawsuits that have already been filed against phone companies alleged to have violated federal privacy laws by handing over customer data to the government. It would also put an end to any pretense that our government has our best interests at heart.

Read the entire article here...

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