During the Second World War there were numerous propaganda posters that served as reminders not to talk about important information, as you didn’t always know who might be listening. The so-called “loose lips sink ships” campaign warned of enemy agents that could be sitting next to you at a restaurant or on the bus. How the times have changed, because in this digital age it isn’t uncommon to hear dozens of conversations as people gab about anything — often times carefree whether it includes a business deal, stock trade or more personal details that shouldn’t be said so openly.
Of course, we can hope that President Barack Obama and others in government are more discrete. After all, the POTUS was even given a specially encrypted BlackBerry – a first given that former President George W. Bush had to basically sign off on e-mail while in office. The issue now is whether those without NSA-level encryption will have the same privacy as the POTUS?
In 2008, when campaigning for the office, then Senator Obama pledged that he would “strengthen privacy protections for the digital age.” Now a new group, the Digital Due Process coalition, is calling for a federal law requiring police to obtain search warrants before tracking the average American’s mobile phone, or to access a user’s e-mail or other data that is stored on a handset or in the cloud. The coalition is made up of a mixed bag of companies and groups including Google, eBay, Microsoft, AT&T, the ACLU and Americans for Tax Reform. They say politics make for strange bedfellows, but Google’s inclusion in this group is somewhat ironic given that Google created technology that allows you to see the location of your friend’s and colleague’s mobile phones!
The difference here some would argue is that it is an opt-in service, as opposed to federal snooping. And already this coalition is in disagreement with the U.S. Justice Department, which contends that some investigations depend on being able to obtain information without search warrants. Are American citizens actually entitled to reasonable expectation of privacy in regards to a mobile phone?
In this matter, I again consider those times when I’ve been sitting on a plane and have overheard multiple business calls, often times ending with “don’t let this get out.” Note to the guy sitting next to me, “the Genie is out of the bottle now, and she ain’t going back in.” Likewise, I’m reminded of Tiger Woods who left voicemail messages to at least one mistress, in an effort to keep his dirty deeds in the bag. So what is at stake I have to ask?
Having watching all five season’s of HBO’s brilliant TV series The Wire, having read most of Tom Clancy’s novels, and being interested in the world of “black ops” and covert operations, I am left wondering whether this is not all necessary to keep American’s safe and help fight crime? I don’t particularly enjoy the thought that some government spook, or more likely some low-level analyst might be reading my e-mails, but the simple fact is that over the years living in New York, I’ve accidentally picked up all sorts of cellular calls, as well as various walkie-talkie chatter. This is because as a journalist I’ve covered a lot of consumer electronics and the old school 900Mhz cordless phones and 900Mhz wireless headphones, which were notorious for picking up those signals. I didn’t spend hours listening to random conversations, mainly because most of it was “honey, I’m on my way home,” and “Gus, are you in the garbage room? Gus, where are you?”