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    Mobile Privacy Series at the Atlantic

    The Atlantic has a series on mobile privacy. One part asks, “What Does Your Phone Know About You?” The answer is: It knows a lot.

    I plugged my phone into my computer and opened an application called Lantern, a forensics program for investigating iPhones and iPads. Ten minutes later, I’m staring at everything my iPhone knows about me. About 14,000 text messages, 1,350 words in my personal dictionary, 1,450 Facebook contacts, tens of thousands of locations pings, every website I’ve ever visited, what locations I’ve mapped, my emails going back a month, my photos with geolocation data attached and how many times I checked my email on March 24 or any day for that matter.

    Want to reconstruct a night? Lantern has a time line that combines all my communications and photos in one neat interface. While most of it is invisible during normal operations, there is a record of every single thing I’ve done with this phone, which also happens to form a pretty good record of my life.

    Figuring that I’ve got nothing to hide or steal, I’d always privileged convenience over any privacy and security protocols. Not anymore. Immediately after trying out Lantern, I enabled the iPhone’s passcode and set it to erase all data on the phone after 10 failed attempts. This thing remembers more about where I’ve been and what I’ve said than I do, and I’m damn sure I don’t want it falling into anyone’s hands. […]

    The big deal about location data isn’t the data itself; rather, the location data makes all the other information that can be extracted exponentially more useful. That’s why mobile forensics is different, and why our devices may be where the bubbling privacy concerns of the last decade come to a head.

    If our phones have become our outboard brains, we’ve actually put ourselves in a very difficult privacy position. Even searching a suspect’s house could never yield a full inventory of that person’s friends and acquaintances, the entire record of their voice and text communications — and all the web pages he’d ever looked at. Now, law enforcement or a government official can have all of that in two minutes and physical access to one’s cell phone.

    Another part looks at “Atoms vs. Bits: Your Phone in the Eyes of the Law.”

    Ask yourself: Do you think it was OK for the police to search the contents of [a person’s] phone without a warrant?

    It’s a complicated issue. We have rules against warrantless searches for good reason. On the other hand, law enforcement doesn’t want to lose the ability to do everything it can to catch people they think are criminals.

    Here’s the legal issue at the heart of the case, which will be argued before the Oregon Supreme Court next week. We all know that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects everyone from “unreasonable” search and seizure. Since the 18th century, though, many cases have touched on how to define what is and is not unreasonable. […]

    What’s really at issue here is whether it’s the size of the digital device that matters or the amount of information it contains. It’s a classic case where if you think about it in terms of the atoms — the stuff — you get one answer but if you think about it in terms of bits you get another. The phone is small, so it is easy to have it “immediately associated” with you. But the information it contains is vast and wide-reaching and valuable.

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