It’s a changing world when it comes to privacy, with many technology users torn between the concomitant desire to control their privacy and to have increasingly intuitive devices; two states that seem distinctly at odds with each other in a time when location tracking and awareness of user habits are what put the ‘smart’ in smartphone.
Mobile companies, carriers, and even law enforcement agencies have capitalized on this general state of confusion to use the latent location awareness abilities of the average smartphone to execute their own agendas, from developing user specific advertising—targeted to one’s likes, location, and habits—to police using a phone’s location data to track and apprehend suspects.
While some might think that we need to take the bad with the good when it comes to the possible uses for location tracking, the State of California has led the charge against such a capitulatory mindset, attempting to pass numerous pieces of legislation designed solely to maintain user privacy rights and stymie unauthorized access to users private information; a crusade that’s raising the ire of the CTIA and law enforcement agencies across the nation.
Amazingly there is markedly little that carriers like Verizon and AT&T and technology giants like Google and Apple can ever agree on, with each opposing its closest competitors at every turn. But one thing that is able to unify these opponents is the spectre of increased privacy regulations, a point that makes them all fast friends and the most trustworthy of allies.
According to a recent CNET article, the carriers are once again unified in opposition to California’s new state bill, S.B. 1434, requiring police to obtain search warrants to track a user’s whereabouts over a wireless network. Simply put, to date law enforcement agencies have simply asked carriers or used their own tracking technology to determine a wireless customer’s whereabouts, something California is looking to put an end to.
Much like a warrant needed to gain lawful entry to a private location; this new bill would require a judge to sign off on all requests for location tracking, except in certain emergency situations. Further, the bill would also require wireless carriers to divulge “‘the number of times location information has been disclosed,’ and how many times they rejected police requests.”
The opposition, levied by the CTIA (PDF) on behalf of carriers like AT&T, Verizon Wireless, U.S. Cellular, and Sprint Nextel, states that such privacy legislation will only foster “confusion for wireless providers when responding to legitimate law enforcement requests,” going on to say that such a bill would “unduly burden wireless providers and their employees, who are working day and night to assist law enforcement to ensure the public’s safety and to save lives.”
The fact of the matter is, however, that wireless carriers should be working hard to protect the privacy of their respective customers, demanding that no one, not even law enforcement, have unwarranted, unrestricted access to any user’s whereabouts. Instead, opposing this bill really makes it seem that carriers have something to hide; that they’re willing to divulge private user information to law enforcement, they just don’t want anyone to know about it.