Police State: Becoming The Hamster In The Habitrail

I remember having a Habitrail and a couple of hamsters when I was a kid. It was cool because no matter where those Hamsters wandered off to (and I had quite the maze) I could watch their every move.

Suddenly we’re all the hamsters in the Habitrail.

The U.S. Constitution has no express right to privacy, but the issue was brought up repeatedly in the Bill of Rights.

We don’t have a right to privacy in the U.S. But the basic agreement with government has always been that the police can’t just do whatever they like, they have to have probable cause and get a warrant from the judicial branch before they start shredding privacy.

There are lots of notable exceptions, like sobriety checkpoints, that allow police to sidestep the judicial process. But generally speaking as long as you avoid driving drunk (or perhaps being an Asian American during World War II), you could have a reasonable expectation of privacy, or something like it, as an American.

Those days are long gone. Today we all carry finely tuned location tracking devices in our pockets and purses nearly all of the time.

We carry these devices voluntarily, even though we know that the government can access that location data at any time and without a warrant. And then use that data as evidence against us to convict us of crimes.

If I could somehow explain all this to our founding fathers, I imagine them doing a double take and sputtering something along the lines of “say what now?”

But that’s today’s reality.

It really is happening right now. If you’re a criminal there’s good chance your cell phone company is handing over all your location data.

This is such an efficient system the police aren’t even bothering with their own GPS tracking devices any more.

You might be saying to yourself “I’m not a criminal, so I’m fine. Who cares if the police are tracking my every move. I have nothing to hide.”

I’d say “Ok. I hope that you aren’t dating or married to a police officer or federal employee who might get jealous and start to track you. Or that you aren’t friends with the wife of a police officer who might start tracking you, too.” Because, damn, being a police officer today means you’re just a phone call away from being able to track anyone in the country for any reason.

And wait for the day a decade from now when someone is convicted of a crime based on nothing but implied guilt from turning off their phone or leaving it at home.

After a couple of years of this the police won’t just be happy they can track anyone – they’ll start to really think that they have the absolute right to track everyone.

And therefore anyone who isn’t carrying their phone with them, or turns it off, must certainly be doing something illegal and trying to hide what they’re really up to.

There are juries that will convict on this kind of circumstantial evidence. Maybe even you would.

Personally I don’t want to live in that kind of America. Because I’m not a hamster, and America isn’t supposed to be a Habitrail.

The last line of defense against the government is our Supreme Court. They’re the line in the sand. And they’re completely complacent about all of this.

Update: Google continues to do what our judicial branch will not.

14 thoughts on “Police State: Becoming The Hamster In The Habitrail

  1. This subject has been sitting in the back of my head for a long time and is very serious. Hopefully the top people in tech can put their brains together and stop some of the 1984 type of stuff from happening before it starts.

  2. It’s very frightening indeed. Not to mention that attorneys in civil suits may be able to demand carrier data as well (location, text messages, etc.). That fact may be even worse because those suits don’t even have the barrier of probable cause.

    What’s depressing is that there is currently no profit (and thus no motivation) in maintaining privacy. Carriers actually look at this monitoring as a revenue stream!


  3. Quellist says:

    Totally agree. We’re due to be tracked by default if we don’t turn it around soon. I’m not feeling like either major political party has anything to gain, by giving up the ability to track individuals.

  4. Raunak says:

    “After a couple of years of this the police won’t just be happy they can track anyone – they’ll start to really think that they have the absolute right to track everyone. ”
    …this is the gravest danger.

  5. Jason says:

    While the situation is bad, the Supreme Court has not been completely complacent. The Feds’ latest attempt to circumvent warrants for this data is a reaction to a Supreme Court decision earlier this year related to warrant less GPS tracking. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/feds-say-mobile-phone-location-data-not-constitutionally-protected/

  6. ItsLeeOwen says:

    Patriot Act, NDAA, HR 347, TSA. You are basically living in a concentration camp in the making. The grounds are established.

  7. Fleet asset tracking software companies aside, there is still a fundamental right to ‘turn off’ but I also fear that the m2m revolution to come will provide unique backscatter methods to tracking even those that elect to ‘turn off’ personal devices. See also: https://twitter.com/qthrul/status/61388285733380096

  8. Rich Gautier says:

    The key to this is the part where you said: We carry these devices voluntarily…
    Any secret is no longer a secret when you share it with someone else. There is no expectation of privacy when you voluntarily carry a device in your pocket that TELLS SOMEONE ELSE WHERE YOU ARE multiple times per minute. You cannot expect to be surprised when that someone else is willing to cooperate with police when asked of your whereabouts.

    This is not an issue of privacy and warrants. This is an issue of you making a third party aware of information that you want kept secret.

    Additionally, the location of your cell phone is not sufficient evidence to prove your whereabouts; else, criminals would leave their phones at home while they committed crimes and then claim that they had an airtight alibi.

    This is no different from showing your face in a public establishment and then expecting the proprietor to not talk to the police when they ask whether or not you’ve been in to the shop. Guess what, they don’t need warrants for those video surveillance tapes from Walmart, either – provided Walmart is willing to cooperate with them…as they can be expected to. If you don’t want anyone to know where you are, perhaps you should turn off the tracking device in your pocket, or leave it at home, make sure you don’t walk past any cameras or past any third-parties that can point your path out to law enforcement.

  9. And just like all things, we complain about it and resist it for a while until it becomes common place and we don’t question it anymore. I used to love my Habitrail. And just like my hamsters, we don’t pay attention to the eyes peering back until the giant hands come to pull us out of the cage.

  10. suzzie35 says:

    This is turning out to be a Big Brother state. Our trusted Civil Rights are being compromised in more ways then most people understand. My son, Jeff Baron is being denied his civil Rights in a Federal Court. Every day is worse then the day before. He has not been given the right to Due Process, or hire an attorney, not been given the right to a trial by jury but has been put into personal receivership along as well as company. As this case progresses we are all imperil of losing our civil rights. check out the story at http://LawInjustice.com

  11. Thomas Jefferson says:

    Yep – Slippery slopes suck.

  12. There was an appeals court ruling recently that overturned the requirement for a search warrant to obtain location data from people’s cell phones. I find it odd that GPS data requires a search warrant but cell phone data does not…

  13. Adam Edwards says:

    Neither party and few businesses take this seriously, because as George said, they don’t think there is an incentive. Would love to support a telco that fights for the people. I would pay double. Not because I do anything worth tracking… just out of principle.

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