Government Surveillance By Data

from NYTs

This is the ultimate example of what’s broken in digital life: The locations of people who used apps to pray and hang their shelves wound up in U.S. military databases.

Vice’s Motherboard publication this week reported that data on people’s movements collected by seemingly innocuous apps passed through multiple hands before being bought by U.S. defense contractors and military agencies. It’s not clear what the military is doing with the information.

This isn’t an isolated case of government authorities buying commercially available databases containing the movements of millions of people. U.S. law enforcement agencies and the Internal Revenue Service have done this, too. After about a year, the I.R.S. determined that the data didn’t help find any targets of tax investigations, The Wall Street Journal reported recently.
This activity might be a legal end-around Americans’ constitutional protections, but that doesn’t make it right. It shows what happens when America’s vast and largely unregulated data-harvesting industries enable government surveillance with little oversight from courts or other outsiders.
One root of the problem is the insatiable land grab by nearly every company imaginable — whether it’s Facebook or weather, parking and dating apps — to siphon every digital morsel of information about us, mostly because they can.

More here.

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  1. Fresh off writing a T.I.D. regarding workplace monitoring and growing access employers and businesses have to data on employees, this article is incredibly eye-opening and worrisome. The most unsettling aspect of the entire article is our lack of knowledge of what exactly the government is doing with this information. It’s becoming nearly impossible to prevent your personal data from getting out to some company without a constant conscious effort to be incredibly careful with your movements online and purchasing of devices. With that being said, it seems entirely possible that our government or possibly even a foreign government is actively in possession of and utilizing our own personal data for reasons we are completely clueless of. Even though such activity may be legal, the government accessing this data certainly seems wrong and invasive from my perspective, especially due to the lack of transparency our government has provided on the issue in a time where many people already have a growing lack of trust in our elected officials. As COVID-19 and technological advancements make us continue to rely even more on technology, it seems like in the future it will be only be harder to prevent apps like Facebook from mining and selling our data.

  2. I hate technology for this exact reason. Nothing is private in anyone’s life. We are constantly being watched, tracked, and our information stored. This article highlights how our data on our phone is being stored in military and government data bases. You might wonder how we are being tracked and our information being stored. We have not given consent to giving up this information, but they take it anyway. There are very few laws that limit the tracking of data on our cell phones, which allow for the capability to take information from our phones. Many companies use the data that is collected on our phones for sales tactics. They see what a group of people are into or even what specific people enjoy and use that to email them and reach them to buy their products. While this seems outlandish, it is what is happening in today’s world. As stated in the article, application creators, in some cases, have no idea that the government can gain information through their app. The government is able to hire people who can download this information and use them against the people of this country. I always ask, why do they need this information? What is so important about my purchases from a store or restaurant? Sometimes I want to smash my phone and go back to fifteen years ago when all we had were flip phones. Although technology improving is a wonderful thing and could be used for good it also comes with so much negative flashback. Many people use the app “WhatsApp” to communicate with family members or friends in other countries without being charged, but little to they know their every word is being watched and stored. The article also states how while the government is collecting this data, they are selling it out to different industries. This is how so many people and companies know so much about the average person and many specific people. The government is supposed to help the American people and not sell their information to benefit themselves. Industries can survive without the information of millions of Americans. It is absolutely ridiculous that our own country is taking so much of our information and leaving room for little to no privacy of our own. Maybe in the near future new laws can protect us from the governments collection of information and we can have our privacy back.

  3. After reading the article, all I can say is that I am not surprised. After doing a large amount of research for the most recent TID, I cannot say that there is much that I have to myself anymore. It is unfortunate because we are not getting anywhere away from this. Technology is a huge part of our lives, especially right now, where essentially everything is done in a virtual setting due to COVID 19. Technology will continue to evolve, and it will be our entire future. Even if we wanted to escape from the eye of someone else, we could not. The article talks about military getting the information of our locations and actions and how no one knows what the military will do with this information. This may be a bit extreme, but the first thing that came to my mind was an Avenger’s movie. In Captain America the Winter Solider, SHIELD, basically a top-secret worldwide organization, was using information and data collected on people to determine whether or not they could be threats to the world. Ultimately, SHIELD was compromised and everyone that was deemed a threat was in jeopardy of getting exterminated. I do not think that we will be exterminated, but it would not surprise me if the military were using this information to identify possible threats. What is even more crazy is that we do not have to give our consent for someone to take and use this information and there are not any laws that protect us. I really liked Ovide’s message in her concluding paragraph saying that we deserve better because we do. Like she said, we should be able to use an app and not be afraid of our privacy being compromised and sent to the military. It really does make me wonder why they want my grandparent’s information while they are playing Candy Crush. All in all, it is a little disturbing coming to the realization that there is not much about me that no one knows except for me. It is also disturbing because there is nothing that I could do because my life basically revolves around technology and it will continue to. I stressed in my TID that I need to be incredibly prepared and knowledgeable about everything that the government can extract from my usage of technology.

  4. The fact that the government is monitored by data raises concerns of the public regarding their own privacy. A majority of Americans believe their online and offline activities are being tracked and monitored by companies and the government with some regularity. It is such a common condition of modern life that roughly six-in-ten U.S. adults say they do not think it is possible to go through daily life without having data collected about them by companies or the government. Data-driven products and services are often marketed with the potential to save users time and money or even lead to better health and well-being. Still, the majority of U.S. adults are not convinced they benefit from this system of widespread data gathering. About 81% of the public say that the potential risks they face because of data collection by companies outweigh the benefits, and 66% say the same about government data collection. At the same time, a majority of Americans report being concerned about the way their data is being used by companies or the government. Most U.S. citizens feel that they have little or no control over how these entities use their personal information, according to a new survey of U.S. adults by Pew Research Center that explores how Americans feel about the state of privacy in the nation.
    This issue is alarming because there is also a collective sentiment that data security is more elusive today than in the past because of the rapid advancement of technology.

  5. This article has a lot in common with the TID we wrote about monitoring at the workplace, and this is scary. Immediately after starting to read the article I was met with the statement, “Vice’s Motherboard publication this week reported that data on people’s movements collected by seemingly innocuous apps passed through multiple hands before being bought by U.S. defense contractors and military agencies. It’s not clear what the military is doing with the information.” Every day I feel more scared being on social media apps or any apps for that matter. The fact that you could say something and end up with a swat team at your house is scary. Our rights to privacy seem as if they have fallen nonexistent when it comes to the time we live in now. Using technology as much as 17 hours a day it comes to me as no surprise that our privacies are being invaded. Many people treat the internet as a protected source with no potential ramifications and they need to realize that their every move is seemingly being watched. I saw in Justin’s comment that he said, ” I cannot say that there is much that I have to myself anymore.” I very much agree with this statement, as after doing all of the different research for the TID, I learned this to be the truth. With multiple companies/organizations siphoning off our information nobody should feel safe on the internet any more. They could be using this data for a myriad of different reasons that are unknown to us, the data creators. I agree with the article when it mentioned that we should not accept this as users of the internet. We should be able to go a day without having our information used in what could be nefarious ways. As I said in my TID, I think we just need to wait for the laws to catch up to this dilemma. In the grand scheme of things, the internet and the things we use within it are relatively new. Because of this, the laws surrounding the subject are not up to snuff with what they should be in todays time. When they do eventually get there, I think multiple people/ groups of people will end up suing for the invasion of their privacy.

  6. There is no more privacy in real life or on the internet. For example there are any hackers and many random servers that may be watching your move and all the other stuff. Many people don’t realize how easily they are getting watched and its crazy to me that when they learn about all these things they’ll be shocked. They don’t know when they agree to terms and conditions that they are being agreed to their microphone camera access or even photos and then why wonder why something strange is being happened. Its different when someone agrees to terms and condition online then when it happens in person and the person has to sign a paper they read the whole agreement and carefully know what’s going on, unlike on the internet you don’t read any of it and it probably says things you don’t want happening to you. Nothing escapes this. There is always a hidden camera somewhere. You can be filmed without knowing it. You can be called to act it all out again for any of the TV channels. You can be tracked by your boss and you wont even know it, it is very creepy and you don’t know what’s going on.The government’s surveillance ranges from cameras to electronics and any other way us Americans wouldn’t even realize. . We are told that this constant surveillance is for our safety and to make it a safe environment for us because their main reason is to protect us when in fact it may not be their true intentions.

  7. Data ethics have emerged as a necessity that many societies appear to be largely unprepared for. The article notes that companies and the government aim to acquire as much data as possible from individuals “mostly because they can,” and I feel like this is a very important bit to take note of in today’s society. Data has such an immeasurable value that any organization that can find more methods to acquire it is likely to do so to the furthest legal extent that they can, or sometimes even disregarding the law. While organizations may not even need the data at the current time, if they have the means to acquire it, they may as well maintain it as an asset for further projects. Many people do not seem to care on account of the inevitability that their data is being collected anyway, and though it is indeed true that the people are limited in their ability to mitigate the acquisition of their data, this article expresses that even random apps used in everyday life can see your data brought to dangerous territories such as military database. This emphasizes the need for more focus on data ethics standards and more civilian attention to data acquisition and privacy concerns in general. While organizations collecting our data may seem harmless, the fact data from such completely innocent and irrelevant apps can be placed in the hands of military databases and the like raises many questions about how much civilians actually know about data acquisition processes.

    This ties into a more recent article posted on this blog ( that revolves around the data of the citizens of Afghanistan now being in the hands of the Taliban after being stored due to digitization efforts influenced by the United States. It is likely that without such influence from the United States, not nearly as much data would have been stored in databases for the Taliban to now access. Incidents such as these further beg the question of where the line should be drawn in regards to data acquisition. While data provides great benefit to companies and governments, there remains a great threat placed upon civilians that will only heighten without proper data ethics standards and regulations. Otherwise, organizations are likely to continue the trend of acquiring as much data as they can “mostly because they can,” placing civilians and possibly entire regions at risk when situations such as the Taliban takeover arise.

  8. This post raises the issue of government surveillance through the monitoring of user data that is regularly generated by things such as cell phones, apps, and web services. This has opened an entirely new method of surveillance to government agencies. This new method of surveillance is completely different from surveillance in the traditional sense. It doesn’t involve warrants or court orders, it instead functions more like the marketing department of a business. Some of what was previously done through surveillance agencies such as the NSA can now be legally gathered through sources such as data brokers and data warehouses in the same way that a marketing department at a business would attempt to gather information to target consumers. This increases the amount of data that is available on the average citizen and it also makes it easier for government agencies to gain access to the data of citizens without warrants.
    The key issue to this is exactly what was stated in the article, different government agencies are now turning to the commercial market to buy data on people. Because the government can now buy data instead of trying to obtain it themselves, they have access to knowledge without having the need to obtain warrants, this would have otherwise been prohibited by the fourth amendment. The origin of this data comes from all of the electronic devices that consumers are using. Their cell phones, smartwatches, social media, and other internet-connected devices are all constantly gathering data on them. Some of this electronic data would already be available to the government through things like the USA PATRIOT Act, but the existence of services such as data brokers, data warehouses, and data markets have allowed for additional information to be accessible to the government. All they need to access this information is the right amount of money just as if any business were buying it.
    The increased popularity of technology is what has made this new type of unrestricted surveillance possible. Consumers have access to so many services that promote themselves as “Free”, but in reality, there is always a price. These services are actually selling their user’s data to data brokers and then that data ends up being sold. Usually, it is sold for marketing purposes, but now multiple government agencies have tried to get in on the action and use that data to their own advantage.

  9. As we just talked about in our most recent TID in regards to workplace monitoring, the monitoring of every activity we take part in is watched and monitored. Although none of this feels legal or morally right, they are allowed to do it. The more I read about the government, social media companies, and workplaces monitoring us, the more uncomfortable I feel and the less I use products that can monitor me. Additionally, there is not a whole lot of protection offered to those in the monitoring spotlight besides the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in the late 1980s. Forty or so years later now, not much progress has been made in terms of offering protection to those being monitored. On the contrary, the development of technology has not slowed down one bit and probably never will . As the monitoring technology gets more and more sophisticated, the legal system needs to try to catch up to the current state of technology, although seemingly impossible. Overall, between the extent of the American people being monitored versus the scope of protection given to the people, we are at a disadvantage and the legal system needs to increase the extent to which we are covered.

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