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Our eroding privacy

by Tom Riggins

Every holiday season there are warnings to consumers about being careful about privacy. With the huge number of credit and debit card transactions along with ever-increasing online shopping the occurrence of identity theft is always something to be wary of. Private efforts to obtain your personal information are becoming more inventive each year.

Sadly, these are not the most egregious invasions of privacy. That honor is reserved for an ever-increasing intrusiveness from government. Yes, in a manner predicted in Orwell’s “1984,” Big Brother is watching you.

Big Brother is everywhere, at all levels of government. The most apparent culprit is the federal government. Abetted by a cooperative court system, federal employees at all levels are taking liberties with your privacy at an ever-increasing intensity. One only has to watch the news to be aware of the FISA court abuses by the FBI or the abuses by federal prosecutors. Just check out the ancillary Enron cases or the Bundy case in Southern Nevada.

The government doesn’t need a warrant to search cellphone tower location records, a federal appeals court in Atlanta recently ruled. The court said that because cellphone owners technically “volunteer” their location to providers when they make phone calls, law enforcement agencies do not need a warrant to track an individual’s location.

By merely carrying a mobile phone, this decision says you “volunteer” your location to the phone company. Since you obviously don’t mind if the phone company knows where you are, the police can also see it without a warrant.

If that’s true, then what other information do you “volunteer” to the many companies that serve you? Just about everything you do could be fair game by such a standard. A dissenting judge saw where this could lead.

Judge Beverly Martin wrote, “Nearly every website collects information about what we do when we visit, So now, under the majority’s rule, the Fourth Amendment allows the government to know from YouTube.com what we watch, or Facebook.com what we post or whom we ‘friend,’ or Amazon.com what we buy, or Wikipedia.com what we research, or Match.com whom we date — all without a warrant.” Unfortunately, she was outvoted.

Remember, the NSA built a huge facility in Bluffdale, Utah, to store the large amounts of data they compile from your phone and online usage. You don’t have any choice. They just keep it under the guise of national security. Don’t forget that if you have cell phones, televisions, tablets, or computers with recording or camera functions, those can be turned on remotely and your every act in your home overheard.

But as bad as the federal intrusions may be, state and local governments are guilty also. Las Vegas has video cameras at the most highly traveled streets. Reno is considering installing numerous license plate scanners around the city, presumably for ticketing purposes. While that is the stated reason, who keeps that data, for how long, and where? No one seems to have the answer. California reportedly receives more than $50 million annually from selling information from their license plate scanners.

Nevada DMV has a huge database of information. Where is that stored and how secure is it? What happens to it? Is it available to the highest bidder? Government data storage, not just DMV but federal, state, and local agencies nationwide, are notorious for their lack of security. Yet they insist on the need to collect every scrap of information they can in the name of national security.

If national security is so important, why can’t Congress facilitate securing our borders? It must be easier to invade the privacy of the citizenry than to limit the need in the first place.

The only way to be truly private is to forego all electronic use, go off the grid, and give up driving. That is not usually possible. Just be aware that everything you do is subject to scrutiny and act accordingly. Turn off your location function on cell phones and be prudent about social media use. Once it is online it never goes away. Also keep in mind that 16 states now have Red Flag laws. Anti-gun advocates can use and have used such information to file unfounded complaints against gun owners. Don’t enable them.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Giving up your privacy for supposed security or convenience is a huge step down that road. Be vigilant, and speak up about abuses.