Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reasonable expectation of privacy......depends on who you ask

Privacy is a relative thing.

Today we live in a world where in order to do "normal and modern" things ....like communicate (or self-publish) we voluntarily sacrifice some level of privacy. And while we like to think that this is in our hands it really isn't. The decision to give it away or keep it is ours but once we give it out it's no longer in our control.

The use of any electronic communication device is routed through large corporations with government regulation. At any given time hundreds of people on a daily basis have access to anything about you minus your inner most thoughts.

Those crazy kids at the NSA have all of us under constant watch word surveillance, and dig moderately hard enough you can find out a lot about a person right down to the size of their skivvies (seriously).

But Big Brother is not alone.

In my work the coin is two sided; my clientele' ranges from private individuals, large corporations to governments......ah well not governments. Routinely retained to either safe guard an individual and their privacy or gain whatever intel I can ...just take your pick and we'll talk money.

As of this writing I have just finished drafting a proposal and concept for a large legal firm here in the U.S. titled "Enhanced Surveillance Techniques for use in Litigation".

Very legal and modern means of surveillance in the private sector. Ironically what a judge would have thrown out ten + years ago as excessive or extraordinary can be argued as quite normal. I won't say it reduces the cost of an investigation and in some cases increases it, it does make for better means of intelligence gathering with a lower to invisible profile not to mention providing a consistent flow of streaming intelligence versus a guy in a car down the street.

For years I have wanted to incorporate the use of R/C airplanes fitted with cameras to conduct aerial surveillance. Which may seem reaching, but truth is the Miami-Dade Police brokered a deal with Honeywell a couple months back and filed official paperwork with the FAA for unmanned aerial drones to fly over the county.

The first of its kind over a large metropolitan area. However not the first of its kind over rural areas (think outskirts of Denver). What was once limited to Kabul or Baghdad will now be over South Beach. And it's only a few short years before a private firms start picking up on this.

Trust me I ever get the scratch to effectively do it I am.

Oh sure you're thinking they'll never allow it. But if a person can privately own and fly anything from a glider to a Gulfstream there is no real reason an unmanned droned can't be either.

There are several local law enforcement agencies here in my part of the world that have police cruisers fitted with license plate scanners. The system has four cameras mounted on the front and back of the cruiser's light bar and are connected to a computer in the trunk, constantly and automatically scanning some 1,200 license plates an hour on parked and moving cars. Once scanned the system the compares scans with plate numbers of vehicles and vehicle owners who have outstanding warrants (local to national), and those databases are updated daily.

The NYPD? They are now armed with roving surveillance vehicles that uses back-scatter technology to scan people for weapons and vehicles for explosives. Ironically it can't tell you if the person with the SiG on their hip has a CCW or not.

Sure sure but what does this have to do with you.

Every-time we open a new profile on a social networking site, post our cell phone, use twitter we voluntarily give away our privacy. This makes it difficult if you ever are targeted by someone like me to argue that I've invaded your privacy when I can show what two hours internet search engines alone will produce. Not to mention any surveillance done or trash rooted through (by the way you need to recycle more).

A discussion I've been in with a colleague is whether or not putting passive GPS trackers on a target's vehicle is trespassing or invading privacy. And the Supreme Court is looking at this as well. Passive trackers don't tell me anything different than if I was following someone it just does it better. Nothing personal is revealed, these devices don't shoot audio or video, private conversations aren't compromised they just say where a vehicle went, how it got there and how fast it went. Was privacy really invaded? Especially since most vehicles and cell phones now come equipped with GPS that do exactly the same thing.

"YES" you cry.

"I don't know!" I respond.

Can someone live a modern life and maintain their privacy?

My best advice. Be intentional about it.

For starters if its reasonable block public views from your home windows. Drive around your life and see how someone can visually access your home life (think of it as self-surveilled) and then figure out ways to block those views.

If your world is windows, whether its a high rise apartment or glass office building three words of sage advice "White-noise-generator". In laymen's terms: speakers that play static facing a window.

You may think it 007 but, laser listening devices are indeed out there and it requires little more than youtube and a twelve year old with a how-to video up in regards as how to build one.

Think I'm paranoid? In the last decade I've seen these utilized by the opposition in 10-20 retained clients. The sound quality ? Meh, but good enough to get what is needed.

And I'm not alone in this threat assessment. Every new United States Federal building built has specs for white noise generators to cause reverb in all windows. What was once Tom Clancy is now $25, a soldering gun and a Tuesday night in the basement.

All of my personal mail and work mail go to a P.O. Box first. I make it a conscious effort to know all the vehicles that belong in my neighborhood.

I promise I do not own a tin foil hat (they're all been aluminum since 1946 anyway). It's just being conscious about the world around me.

I have clients who are well known and unknown that pay me an annual retainer to route everything from their cell phone bills, set social networking pages up, all the way to handling their apartment leases through my firm.

"good for them, I don't have that kind of cash"

If you don't mind The Man having some involvement most states have what is called a "Safe at Home" program generally run through the Secretary of States office. It's really just a mail forwarding service, but every little bit of backstopping helps.

Make a list of how and where you are publicly profiled and then see what you can do to curtail it. If you simply take down a profile it will still exist out there so go for disinformation. Then examine all areas of your life where you can do better at safeguarding your personal privacy whether it's the back yard to the internets.

Where there was once a social concept to mind your own business in another twenty will be "what do you have to hide!? What was once seen as a fundamental right will be looked at suspiciously and sadly deemed socially "unacceptable" and prosecutors in the future will talk about how we are trying to keep damning secrets to inflame a juries decision.

The more we attention-whore ourselves out the less we can lay claim to our rights of privacy.


5 comments:

tgace said...

Spot on.

Odysseus said...

I really don't expect to need an answer to this. But if someone found one of these trackers on their vehicle and either mailed it somewhere or re-stuck under some random semi-truck would the PI have any legal cause to complain? I'm sure the government would find something to charge you with if it belonged to them.

Matthew said...

In all honesty I've never known anyone in this business who has lost a tracker (including yours truly) to do anything other than drop the F bomb a lot and suck it up and count it as a loss.

Plus no self -respecting (<---key phrase) would ever....EVER....call a cop and report that his tracker had been "stolen".

Should you ever find a tracker on your vehicle and left wondering what to do and feel inclined to have some fun with the whole thing I suggest the following.

Drive into the heart of your nearest metropolitan area before rush hour, hail a cab and then stuff it deep in the back seat then leave.

Benny Hill hilarity should ensue, you just won't get to see it.

WatchCat said...

What is the distance capability of typical private-party audio surveillance equipment? Also, how does street noise factor in?

Brian said...

"I have clients who are well known and unknown that pay me an annual retainer to route everything from their cell phone bills, set social networking pages up, all the way to handling their apartment leases through my firm."

Matthew, this strikes me as being extremely interesting. Would you be will to talk to me off-line about this kind of work?

Thank You for your consideration.