Surveillance Society: Negative Aspects of Government Data Mining
by Bill Rounds
Surveillance Society. We already know that the government and private entities collect a vast amount of personal data about our everyday activities. Previously I commented about the dangers and intrusion of private entities maintaining transactional databases and having access to this wealth of personal information. It is also dangerous and intrusive for government entities to have access to this information without meeting the requirements for a search warrant. Critical to understanding why it is dangerous for governments to have this information is knowing how it is collected and what they are doing with it.
How Governments Conduct Surveillance On Citizens
The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, CALEA, was enacted some years ago to make sure that law enforcement has the ability to conduct surveillance on all types of activity, including electronic communication. This law requires providers of communication services to be able to keep track of a wide range of data on phone calls, internet usage and other financial and personal activity.
Unlike with hawala banking, there are thousands of private entities which maintain detailed records of the transactions you make with them. Search engines keep track of the terms you search for, your credit card keeps track of all purchases and returns, your grocery store can keep track of the food you buy, and so on. In many cases the data that is collected is simply aggregated and does not immediately identify the individuals in the transactions. Sometimes the data identifies the parties involved in the transactions. The volume of data collected permits the identity of individuals involved in an isolated transaction to be easily identified, even if the data has been aggregated anonymously.
Government authorities will often request the aggregated data from these private companies. There are thousands of private entities that voluntarily produce this information. Others will wait for a court order like a warrant or a subpoena to produce any records. Fortunately Google, one of the largest collectors of personal information, generally does not voluntarily produce this data.
What Do Governments Do With The Surveillance Information They Collect?