This Monday, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) shocked the nation by releasing correspondence he made to 9 major cellphone carriers in the United States. Lawmakers and smartphone users alike were shocked to discover that smartphones and their carriers are hemorrhaging data about the personal lives of citizens in the US. As technology moves faster than legislation, everyone is now scrambling to discover how to plug the leak.
People love smartphones because they take oversharing to a new level. They give you instant access to your Twitter accounts, let you check in with FourSquare so that your friends know where you are, and let you text, message and IM to keep in contact with the people you love most.
Your smartphone hemorrhages information. And everyone is interested, even smartphone companies. Their policy is to store it, file it and just generally keep it around for at least two years. Long after you’ve forgotten about those embarrassing drunk texts, they sit on a server mostly collecting dust.
More info sits on the web. Meet someone attractive at a function and the first thing you do is haul out the smartphone and start snooping around.
The authorities do the same thing. And when something happens, they dive right in. In many cases they use it to find people, thwart crime and solve cases.
Too Much Information
Crime prevention is great and all, but legislators are worried that it’s getting out of control. Rep. Markey’s report revealed that law enforcement agencies are becoming increasingly dependent on ferreting through our information.
Just in 2011, AT&T and Verizon reported getting around 250 subpoenas for information a day. They’ve had to employ around 100 workers to respond to requests 24 hours a day just to keep up with the information.
Sprint reported a whopping 500,000 subpoenas in total for the year despite only being the third largest cellphone carrier in the United States. That’s a lot of requests. That’s roughly half of the 1.3 million federal, state and local requests in 2011 alone.
And access is growing all the time. Twitter reported that the number of government requests for user data in the first six months of 2012 surpassed all of the requests they had in 2011. Smartphone providers report similar steep rises in data access.
Many are so alarmed that they’ve contacted legislators in an effort to protect our privacy. It was one of those e-mails that prompted Rep. Markey’s inquiry.Image source: Cellphonetrackingsoftware.org
What Can You Do?
The short answer is “not much.” The current legislation that protects your privacy is outdated, made largely before smartphones dominated the cellphone market. And now that all the information is out there it is largely unprotected.
We’re entering a brave new world where we share information with each other at unprecedented rates. We could just tell you to stop using your smartphone and providing data but we can’t stop laughing long enough to get the words out.