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Big Brother really is watching us

Published November 26. 2011 09:01AM

Last week, while in Florida on other business, we decided to visit Disney's Epcot Center near Orlando Florida. Little did I know when I made that decision that it would be the basis of an article on invasion of privacy. When we checked in to the hotel, were given a card we could use for all of our purchases in the massive Disney complex. I quickly realized that this was Disney's way to track our spending so that they could enhance their marketing campaigns. Rather than use their cash card, we decided to use a different credit card than the one we used to check it.

When we entered the Epcot amusement park the ticket taker required that we place our thumbs on a fingerprint scanner. There was no way I was going to give the Disney conglomerate one of my fingerprints. When I refused to use the scanner, they asked to see my driver's license. I was willing to do this, as I understand the need to ensure that several people do not share the same ticket. The driver's license was as far as I was willing to go. Had they not accepted it, I would've asked for a ticket refund. I may be a little paranoid, however as a security consultant for over 30 years, I know how poorly corporate data is protected. By giving Disney my personal identity information, such as a fingerprint, it is only a matter time until that data is misused in some manner.

As we toured around Epcot we made several purchases. I was brimming with joy as I was defeating Disney's attempt to track us. That joy was quickly dispelled when we checked out. All of the purchases we made on a different credit card were clearly displayed on our bill. Disney managed to track us even though we used a different credit card. I decided that should we ever return to Disney World, we would stay off property even if it meant driving a few extra miles every day. I also decided that I would be more cautious in managing our digital footprints when I got home.

When we returned there was a lot of junk mail in our mailbox. One piece was from Verizon Wireless that I almost threw out. It was a good thing I opened it. Inside there was a "privacy notice". This is really a misnomer as it describes how they will use our information, not how they will keep it private. In the notice, it mentioned that they would make our information available to other parties for use in business reporting and marketing. Clearly they intend to sell this data as many times as they can, for as much as they can. I could stop them from making our information available to other businesses by calling them and opting out of the program. I called to opt out but found that I could not opt out of the mobile ads that Verizon will send to me. This is ridiculous. I am paying for a cell phone and I cannot stop the ads that the vendor will send me and that I may have to pay for. Verizon Wireless is making money from the cell phone user (me) and then sending me advertisements to make even more money. My only choice is to drop Verizon as my carrier and hope the new phone company will not send me any ads.

Since 2006, the government can legally use a cell phone to listen to conversations within the vicinity of the phone. The cell can be used as a microphone without a court order. The surprise here is that the microphone can be activated even if the cell phone is turned off. If you want to stop this from occurring, you must remove the battery from the phone. Cell phones can also be used to track our movements, whether the phone is on or off. Again, to stop this you have to take the battery out of the phone. The 4th amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from making unlawful searches or seizures. A writ of assistance or search warrant is required before the police can make a search or seizure. The Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that the public has an expectation of privacy. If this is so, then why are cell phones used to track our movements? Why can police and security forces ease drop on conversations in the vicinity of the cell phone? (

I understand that cell phone tracking is very helpful in some cases. Parents can monitor the location of their children by installing an application on a cell phone. One spouse can determine whether the other spouse is in Kelsey's Bar or at work. If I ever run my car off the road and can't get out, the police can use cell technology to come to my rescue. I do not want to stop these valid uses of cell data. I just want to stop abuse of my personal data, without my knowledge or without a court order.

Our activities on the Internet are also tracked. Prior to starting this article, I found 1,532 cookies on my MacBook. I removed all of them and checked to ensure they were gone. In the time it took to write this article, 38 new cookies appeared on my computer. All I did was check a few references on the web to ensure that the information in this article is correct. My reward for accuracy is that I will again be tracked and monitored. I found that preventing cookies impacts my ability to search the web and perform basic functions. Needless to say, I activated the privacy option on my browser and will make cookie removal a process I perform several times a day. After protecting my MacBook, I decided I should check my Windows computer. I found that I had 8,161 cookies or historical activity files. I purged these files and will purge them every time I use the computer.

OnStar, the multi-purpose software from General Motors also tracks your location. Even if you cancel the service, your movements can still be tracked. If you drive over a cliff, OnStar can be activated to find you. My concern is that our privacy can be invaded without our permission or consent. My solution to this is not to buy a car with OnStar. After all, they can track me with my cell phone.

Anyone who has walked the streets of New York or other major cities has been monitored by video cameras. This surveillance is necessary to protect us from another 9/11 attack or so we are told. We have to put up with this invasion of privacy for public safety purposes. Our government has to listen into calls without warrants to protect us from vile people. It is the cost of living in a modern world. Thank goodness I live in rural America! If I want to go for walk in the country, all I have to do is leave my cell phone at home and I can enjoy nature in privacy. I just have to watch out for the satellites that may be searching for me! If you see someone walking down a small country road wearing a helmet and welding glasses, say hello. It just might be me trying to avoid aerial surveillance.

George Orwell's book, 1984 was intended to be science fiction. Well, 1984 was 27 years ago. Everything Orwell predicted has come true. Big Brother is constantly watching us and monitoring our activities in an effort to protect us from ourselves. One of our most basic freedoms has been destroyed. The right to privacy no longer exists. Welcome to the Brave New World!

© 2011 Gordon Smith - All Rights Reserved

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