Wired.com’s Threat Level blog has quite a list for consipracy theorists. Unlike your death-panel-fearing, “Obama is the antichrist” preaching Uncle Louie, Wired did their homework, and they came up with nine real reasons for paranoia. Mostly, the list features laws that are either so outdated or so powerful that they leave room for abuse and unchecked law enforcement proffessionals.
Of course, the legendary Patriot Act is on the list, but some lesser-known laws and loopholes didn’t ease any worries either.
Warrantless GPS Monitoring
The Obama administration claims Americans have no right to privacy in their public movements. The issue surfaced this month in a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if law enforcement agents should be required to obtain a probable-cause warrant in order to place a GPS tracking device on a citizen’s car. The government admitted to the Supreme Court that it thinks it would have the power to track the justices’ cars without a warrant.
Fake Cell Towers
You make a call on your cellphone thinking the only thing standing between you and the recipient of your call is your carrier’s cellphone tower. In fact, that tower your phone is connecting to just might be a boobytrap set up by law enforcement to ensnare your phone signals and maybe even the content of your calls.
‘Six Months and it’s the Governments’
If you’re already not wanting a dose of Prozac, consider that the law allows the government to obtain Americans’ e-mails, without a warrant, if it’s stored on some other company’s servers for more than six months. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, adopted in 1986, turned 25 this year. When written, the law assumed e-mails left on a server for that long were abandoned.
The scariest thing on the list was the question mark: ‘known unknowns.’ The phrase, famously employed by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
This one poses some serious questions:
For instance, does the government think the Patriot Act allows it to force Google to turn over information about anyone who has searched for certain keywords using orders that come with a gag order? Is the NSA sucking up everything we say on our phones and that we do online, under the theory it pushed in a court case that it’s not a search until a human actually looks at the data? How often do police investigating a crime ask wireless providers to give them a list of all the people whose phones were in use in the area when they think a crime was committed?
Your Uncle Louie will take this last one to the races, and maybe he’s right. Odds are good that these ‘known unknowns’ are in line with the rest of the list: “Warrantless _______,” and while the blank could hold a hefty privacy violation, it likely isn’t “brain scan.” So unless Aunt Ethel makes a nice knit cover for your foil hat, you’re probably all set.
But in case that warrantless GPS tracking bit caught your attention: here’s how you can check your own car.
Photo: An Abandoned FBI Vehicle-Tracking Device Jon Snyder/Wired.com