For the London Free Press – April 8, 2013 – Read this at lfpress.com
Machines that become self-aware and rebel against their human creators is a popular science fiction theme. A threat more immediate than Terminator’s Skynet or BSG’s rebelling “toasters” is that of our belongings spying on us.
As technology becomes more sophisticated, it enables more intrusion into individual privacy. Our belongings increasingly generate information about us, and the Internet will make more of our belongings — such as our homes and appliances — connected and able to share that information.
The use of data tracking and collecting by cars and smartphones are good examples.
Our smartphones and the applications we use every day are collecting more and more information about us. The inclusion of “black boxes” in cars also allows this same intrusion.
Many of us have smartphones. This new terminology provides an accurate description of how powerful these devices have become. Most people are focused, and understandably excited, about the capabilities they have provided. But there is a less of a focus on the sheer amount of personal information they can provide to various third parties and what potential impact this could have in the future.
The average smartphone user would likely use their phone for e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, GPS and even personal banking. With simple access to a person’s phone, organizations would be able to obtain almost a complete profile of a person and have access to all of their personal data. Modern smartphones contain little in terms of disclosing who and where this information is held and what steps are being taken to protect it.
Personal data collection has also increased considerably in cars. Though the concept of a talking car in Knight Rider seemed to be a ridiculous idea when the show first aired, we are closer to that day than ever.
For example, some car insurance companies offer discounts to people who provide them with black-box information about their cars, such as where and when they drive and how fast they drive. Though this information can be useful assisting insurance adjusters and the police to determine liability in the event of a crash, this also can be viewed as extremely intrusive.
This is not meant to suggest technological developments should be stopped, but there does need to be a real effort to think things through. What information is collected? Is that information really needed? Is it stored on the device or somewhere else? For how long is it stored? Who has access to it? For what purpose can they use it? If others have access, is it made anonymous or tied to an individual? What choices do we as individuals have over this information?
Do we feel comfortable with cellphone providers, car manufacturers, insurance companies and police knowing our every move?
How the dissemination of this information will be controlled by the courts and balanced with individual rights will develop over time. The Ontario Court of Appeal recently held that police can access, without a warrant, a phone of a person being arrested that does not contain a passcode.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled a wiretap warrant is needed for police to obtain access to text messages in the possession of a cell company.
Some argue this collection and sharing of information should be OK for those who have “nothing to hide”, but it is a much more complex matter than that.