24 Jan 2021: US Defense Intelligence Agency admits buying location data off brokers
In a memo to Senator Ron Wyden, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) admitted to buying location data of the public (and not just US residents) from data brokers.
Data brokers pay application developers and websites for user data. They aggregate and organize the data, and then sell it to paying parties. Their known clients include the US government, police, and intelligence agencies.
Fact: Twitter screenshots of the memo
On a platter: DIA denies wrongdoing, says it doesn't violate Fourth Amendment rights
The DIA says data it collects is commercially available, and therefore it isn't in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which necessitates a warrant to collect data from third parties such Facebook, Google, or Amazon. However, it's an open secret how the US government bypasses this.
The DIA says it was cleared to access the location database only five times since 2017.
Trojan horse: Cloud computing is a trap, says GNU founder Richard Stallman
Eminent advocate of privacy for decades, Richard Stallman had predicted how cloud computing would be used to strip unwitting users of the control over their data and technology.
Amazon using the tenuous moderation excuse to kick Parler off its servers is a chilling reminder of the danger of letting others take control of your computing infrastructure.
Fine print: Using Big Tech products entails relinquishing your Fifth Amendment rights
Notably, the Fifth Amendment protects an individual from being "compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself".
Meaning, if one stores data on their computer and encrypts it, the Amendment upholds their right to refuse decryption, which would be incriminating.
However, you essentially lose your Fifth Amendment rights the moment you use Big Tech services which store data on the cloud.
Cloud-y policies: It's no longer 'your' data when it's in the cloud
Given how the US authorities have worked around the Fourth with the help of tech companies, the Fifth Amendment is no good either when users willingly hand their data over.
Tech companies can be subpoenaed to pass your data to authorities, which can then be used to prosecute you - all without showing users a warrant or otherwise seeking consent to access their data.
Baby meets bathwater: Kidnapping solved using Apple Watch; Highlights government's access to data
Case in point: Police in San Antonio, Texas recently tracked down a kidnapped woman using an "emergency cellular ping" on her Apple Watch. The Apple Watch has access to location services through your mobile phone, or even independently if the Watch is a cellular model.
The police was responding to a call by the victim's daughter reporting the kidnapping.
Loophole: Government services can access location data without warrant
The kidnapping case highlights how the government can access any user's location data at will. Although the access was put to good use in this case, the instances of government overreach far outstrip these rare exceptions.
While legislators like Senator Wyden work tirelessly to close loopholes, people continue to voluntarily store their confidential data 'in the cloud'.
Game of chance: Connected computing has a flipside, but the coin isn't yours
As highlighted by the kidnapping case, government's use of confidential data could be advantageous if used judiciously.
Undoubtedly, data is the currency of the modern world, but one should be wary of how convenience comes with insecurity.