Yes, that’s a pretty alarmist headline, but we’ve just read this Center for Investigative Reporting Online article, and we have to admit, we’re a little shook. We devote a lot of time to covering issues related to personal privacy and online security, and this is one of the more troubling articles we’ve read in a while.
We recommend reading the whole thing for yourself, but we’ll try and sum it up for you the best we can: basically, all of that personal information that we didn’t want in the hands of the NSA is just as attainable if you’re a private attorney, a member of local law enforcement, an IRS investigator, or an FBI agent (okay, that last one’s not so shocking, but the other three are pretty upsetting.
All any of those people would need to do is get an easily obtainable subpoena, which requires no overview from a judge, and they could access your credit card transactions, ATM withdrawals, bank statements, tax returns and, most relevantly of all to us at FlashRouters, the wealth of information that you have digitally stored on your iPhone.
The Ways in Which Your Privacy Is Being Threatened
Here are a few examples (of many) that the Center of Investigative Reporting Online offered up in the interest of impressing the import of this issue upon you (and, you know, chilling you to your very core):
“E-ZPass records, for example, will tell divorce attorney Jacalyn Barnett when someone has driven from the island of Manhattan, and paying cash makes her more suspicious that a spouse has something to hide. Another sign is odd departures from routine.”
“Even if an investigator faces some hurdles with your inbox, such as Google insisting on a warrant, email is not entirely protected. With a court order that doesn’t reach probable cause, Google will give up your name, IP address, the dates and times you’re signing in and out, and with whom you’re exchanging emails.”
And then there’s this shocking one:
“Divorce attorney Rosen tells the story of one client in a child custody case. The woman suspected that the father had mental health problems, so a subpoena was issued directing his psychiatrist to turn over notes about the man’s treatment, relationship with his child and prescription medications.”
That’s right. Forget even about the basic rule of privacy related to doctor/patient confidentiality. Even the suspicions of someone in the middle of a divorce are enough to obtain a subpoena requiring the psychiatrist to hand over his notes about a patient’s mental health.
You need not be obsessive about your privacy to find all of this tremendously disconcerting. Using a combination of credit card purchases, ATM purchases, tracking IP addresses, tracking smartphones through GPS, E-Z Pass records, etc…an investigator or attorney can piece together a pretty accurate picture of your day-to-day life. Short of completely shutting yourself off from the digital world, you may find yourself answering for incredibly intimate details to an investigator, attorney, or just someone who wants to embarrass you.
The Modes of Invading Privacy Are Getting More Sophisticated
Those who would compromise your personal security and privacy are increasingly abetted by the advent of newer and newer technology. Forget about your smartphone for a minute (though they are a major component of this issue), and look at the ways in which law enforcement tools can be used to track you:
“To automatically identify celebrities and regular customers when they enter a store, some retailers reportedly are using another facial recognition technology originally developed in the U.K. for spotting terrorists and criminals.”
That’s to say nothing of E-Z Pass and license plate scanners. All of this technology works towards establishing your habits and can provide information you’d rather not have exposed when you break those habits. Even capricious websites like OKCupid, which match you up with potential significant others after you’ve provided them with a wealth of personal information, can contribute to this problem:
“When you log in with a username and password to sites like Gmail, Amazon or OkCupid, your behavior can be linked to your real name or email address. Soltani said personally identifying information also can unintentionally “leak” to third parties, even if companies say they have no need for such data, and it’s not clear what happens to the information once it falls into their hands.”
From there, you may start noticing how remarkably specific personal ads get, as third party websites track your browsing habits and tastes.
There’s not a lot you can do about most of these things, unless you’re willing to make some uncomfortable lifestyle choices. You could take solace in the fact that, while all of your information is out there, so is everybody elses, and that at least evens everyone out, to some degree.
Or you can subscribe to a VPN which, while it’s not the solution for every invasive measure chronicled above, it will allow you to make your online lifestyle a whole lot more secure. If you’re looking for the right VPN service provider, we can wholeheartedly recommend any of the ones featured on our Supported Provider List.