Your cell phone tells the government where you are. The government’s computers collect all of these data. The computer programs can identify patterns of your action.
They can’t do this to me. First, I use a dumb phone. It does not record my GPS data. It’s old. Second, I rarely carry it.
But it will get old eventually, and die. That’s when I will start carrying a cheap toss-away phone.
How much can the government do to trace your habits? There are almost no technical limits, and the few that exist will steadily be overcome. Prices will fall on tracing you.
A former senior official of the National Security Agency said the government’s massive collection of metadata allowed the agency to construct “maps” of an individual’s daily movements, social connections, travel habits and other personal information.
“This is blanket. There is no constraint. No probable cause. No reasonable suspicion,” said Thomas Drake, who worked unsuccessfully for years to report privacy violations and massive waste at the agency to his superiors and Congress.
Metadata “is more useful than (the) content” of a telephone call, email or Internet search, Drake said in an interview. “It gets you a map over time. I get to map movements, connections, communities of interest. It’s also a tracking mechanism.”
The NSA “can easily associate” a phone number with an identity, he added. “All location information comes from a (cellular) tower. There are tower records. They are doing this every single day. It’s basically a data tap on metadata, and I can build a profile (of an individual) instantly.”
The agency has programs that also can mine the metadata of emails and other electronic information, Drake said.
With advances in data storage, he continued, the NSA is able to maintain massive amounts of metadata for as long as it wants. “This stuff is trivial to store,” he said.
The limit is not technological. The limit is not what little remains of the Constitution under the Patriot Act. The limit is manpower. The spy agencies do not have enough manpower to take action on anything more than a tiny fraction of all this.
The government is ultimately close to blind. Information must be interpreted and acted upon. People operating in a free market can do this. Knowledge is decentralized. But information collected by governments is close to useless. The government cannot assess what is important and what isn’t.
The government can create havoc for victims. Their rights are gone. But the government is highly limited in this ability. Imposing tyranny is not a cost-free endeavor.
If individuals take small steps to use their technology to resist, by jamming state agencies with paperwork, we can thwart this. The public is not helpless. Still, if you go to a gun show, go to a gun range, or go anywhere you think you would like to conceal, don’t take your regular cell phone.