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You have no idea how much information about you is floating around the web, available to governments or the highest bidder.Seriously, no one does. The speed of digital innovation has left privacy laws in disarray, according to professor Neil Richards at Washington University School of Law.
“Sometimes it’s important to connect all the dots,” Richards told Business Insider. “I really do think the big picture is tremendously important and it tends to get lost.”
That big picture is that — whether it’s parents tracking children’s online behaviour, cops searching a suspect’s mobile phone, or advertisers tracking where people eat dinner — your private life really isn’t private anymore.
“What I do see happening is big institutions, the government, police forces, tech companies, they’re always pushing, they’re always asking for more, they’re trying to intrude more into personal information and previously private zones,” Richards said.
These days advertisers have the ability to run analytics on web users’ digital behaviour and can potentially make quite a bit of money just from tracking their virtual activity.
Even your password is losing its privacy. Since people often use the same password for their Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare accounts, advertisers can more easily track everything they do online, according to Richards.
Plus, the use of a single password for multiple social media accounts means “we’re moving towards a unified ID on the Internet” that will make it even easier to track our every digital move, according to Richards.
A case earlier this fall when Chevron asked a court to subpoena Google for access to blogger Kevin Jon Heller’s email is a perfect example of how vulnerable online information can be.
“We are seeing more intrusion, more watching into people’s lives and their activities that previously were secret or shared with only a few people, much more of our lives is getting recorded and digitized and shared,” Richards said.
And as the courts remained divided on how to protect privacy, that intrusion might only continue to grow.
A federal court in Pittsburgh ruled last month you don’t have an expectation of privacy if you’re stealing someone else’s Internet — nor if you’re using your own.
But no consensus has been reached about mobile phones.
A judge in Rhode Island threw out mobile phone evidence linking a man to a child’s murder, but a federal appeals court in Louisiana is still debating whether smartphone records are protected or not. And while courts in Ohio have ruled cops need warrants to search mobile phones, California’s highest court has given law enforcement the right to search a suspect’s mobile phone at the time of arrest without a warrant.
“The courts are all over the place,” Hanni Fakhoury, a criminal lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the New York Times. “They can’t even agree if there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages that would trigger Fourth Amendment protection.”
These are the sorts of things you have to worry about in a revolution.
“The changes that we’re seeing are really cosmic in a sense, they’re enormous,” Richards said.