What Info Can Uncle Sam Dig Up About You?

Got any secrets you're hiding from Uncle Sam?

The answer had better be no, because in the digital age, your life is more of an open book than ever before.

Cell phones, computers, GPS devices and other technological wonders may make our lives easier, but they also make them far more transparent.

The Constitution affords some protection, and Congress has passed laws surrounding electronic communication and surveillance. But privacy advocates say those laws desperately need to be updated.

"What's great about the digital revolution? Well, all of this information is readily accessible and easy to manipulate and easy to search and inexpensive to store," said Jim Dempsey, vice president of public policy for the Center for Democracy and Technology. "So what that means is that it's also extremely easy for the government to get access to it, and the government does."

Want to find out just how easy it is for the government to access your information? Take a look at a few examples below.

Court Rules on Locating People With GPS, Cell Phone Tower Information

Cell Phone Location Tracking

That cell phone in your hand may give you directions to any place under the sun, but it also can give law enforcement officials directions to you.

Using GPS data or by figuring out which cell phone towers your phone is connecting to, it's technically very easy to determine your location. Cell service providers not only store records of your location history, they also can track you in real-time.

The only thing that could protect your location privacy is the law. And privacy experts say the law isn't quite sure where it stands.

"The law regarding when the government can track a person without a warrant is extremely confused right now," said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney for the ACLU.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia said that judges can require law enforcement to show probable cause for tracking cell phones, but they don't need to require it.

Some took the half-empty perspective that this means that law enforcement doesn't need a warrant to track your phone. Others took a more positive view and said it encourages judges to look more closely at surveillance requests, which ultimately could mean more protection for individuals' rights.

Privacy Advocates: Congress Needs to Act on Electronic Surveillance

Crump saw the decision in the more optimistic light, but said the circumstances under which you can be tracked vary state by state. In Washington, Oregon and New York, for example, law enforcement needs a warrant to track. But that protection isn't as clear in other states, she said.

Some speculate that the Supreme Court will step in to settle the dispute, but she emphasized that what's clear is that it's time for Congress to weigh in.

"Congress has not updated electronic surveillance laws in any meaningful way since 1986, when cell phones were as big as your head and no one was thinking about how decades in the future these laws are going to apply to tracking," Crump said. "It's time for Congress to really grapple with this question and provide some real privacy protections for people."

GPS Tracking

So whether the feds can track you with your phone is up in the air, but what about tracking you with a GPS device?

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: A home damaged by a landslide Friday, April 18, 2014 in Jackson, Wyo. is shown in this aerial image provided by Tributary Environmental.
Tributary Environmental/AP Photo
null
Danny Martindale/Getty Images
PHOTO: Woman who received lab-grown vagina says she now has normal life.
Metropolitan Autonomous University and Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine