TomTom, the maker of a popular Global Positioning Device that helps drivers navigate their way in unknown territory, sold its data to the Dutch government. Dutch police requisitioned the data, and used it to set up speed traps for motorists! In other words, TomTom may as well have been spying on people for the government and police and advising the latter how best to stick it to them with nuisance traffic tickets. TomTom’s data did not reveal individual identities, but it still was a form of surveillance for the state on large numbers of individuals.
This gathering of information about your whereabouts via GPS by private corporations who then share it with the government or allow the government easy access to it, is a major threat to individual privacy.
Apple on Wednesday (way too late!) denied collecting data at its own servers on the movements of its iPhone and iPad custormers using ios 4. But it admitted that it had installed a database file on all such devices that has been tracking the whereabouts of its customers and storing that information unencrypted since last summer. It turns out that Google/ Android smartphones do much the same thing.
It is just wrong that Apple did not tell its customers it was creating such a long-term database, unencrypted, on both the device and on the computer on which it is backed up. (Consumers can encrypt the back-up file, but had never been prompted to do so). Apparently Apple intends to ensure in the next operating system upgrade that customers can opt out of being involuntarily tracked on their own devices.
Police, unlike the consumers, have known about these databases for some time and have access to devices that will easily extract and display it. Given that courts have held that border agents can search computers at will, it is difficult to see why they couldn’t also search smartphones, which means anyone who travels abroad and back could be forced to surrender to the government a database of their movements for the past year. Without a warrant and with no reason given.
The government does not have a right to engage in warrantless, unreasonable searches into our private lives (the fourth amendment excludes our “effects” from the prying eyes of constables, and surely a database of our own movements kept on our own phone and computer is enough like a diary that the Founding Fathers would have considered it an “effect”) But the National Security State is enamored of warrantless GPS tracking of Americans.
Now that corporations are inserting themselves into our intimate lives (mainly for marketing purposes), they are creating diary-like information for us against our will and then laying it out in public where it is fair game for government surveillance. There is a Security-GPS Complex growing up that will be the death of the Fourth Amendment if we are not careful. Apple should not want to be part of such an Orwellian structure.