Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law of the Senate Judiciary Committee, writes about privacy and civil liberties in an opinion column at Wired. Franken has sought answers from Apple and Google about the recent controversy concerning researchers’ revelations about the tracking and storage of users’ location data on Apple iPhones and 3G-enabled iPad tablets, as well controversy over devices using Google’s Android devices. And he has written to Carrier IQ demanding answers about reports about how smartphone users’ data could be quietly gathered and used by companies via a service from Carrier IQ. Now, Franken writes:
When people talked about protecting their privacy when I was growing up, they were talking about protecting it from the government. They talked about unreasonable searches and seizures, about keeping the government out of their bedrooms. They talked about whether the government was trying to keep tabs on the books they read or the rallies they attended. Over the last 40 or 50 years, we’ve seen a fundamental shift in who has our information and what they’re doing with it. That’s not to say that we still shouldn’t be worried about protecting ourselves from government abuses. But now, we also have relationships with large corporations that are obtaining, storing — and in many cases, sharing (and selling) — enormous amounts of our personal information.
When the Constitution was written, the founders had no way of anticipating the new technologies that would evolve in the coming centuries. [...] The founders had no idea that one day the police would be able to remotely track your movements through a GPS device, and so the Supreme Court ruled in January, in United States v. Jones, that this was also a search that required court approval.
All of this is a good thing: Our laws need to reflect the evolution of technology and the changing expectations of American society. This is why the Constitution is often called a “living” document.
But we have a long way to go to get our modern privacy laws in line with modern technology. [...]
I believe that consumers have a fundamental right to know what information is being collected about them. I believe that they have a right to decide whether they want to share that information, and with whom they want to share it and when. And I believe that consumers have a right to expect that companies that store their personal information will store it securely.
Last week, the White House released a privacy “white paper” and called for the passage of a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. I was glad to see that President Obama believes, as I do, that our right to privacy is exactly that — a right, not a luxury. We need to work hard to make sure that right is a reality, and that’s an important part of what I do in the U.S. Senate. [...]
It’s important to understand that these are not just esoteric “tech” issues or abstract principles about privacy. Breaches of our data can have a profound impact on our lives. Almost immediately after I announced my investigation into mobile tracking, I got a call from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (MCBW). They told me that mobile technology was being exploited by abusers and stalkers who were using the privacy vulnerabilities in smartphones to secretly track their victims. [...]
We need to make sure that our laws keep pace with technology so that Americans have control over their private, personal information. I’m going to keep pushing my colleagues and the administration to move my legislation forward and do whatever it takes to protect American consumers.
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