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The recent debate over government surveillance and individual privacy often seems kind of abstract, involving National Security Agency supercomputers and secret software that are gathering and analyzing vast quantities of data about all of us.

The NSA and others have tried to calm concerns about the databasing, though, by assuring us that what’s being collected doesn’t identify any of us personally—unless government agents get judicial approval to go deeper into the information as part of a terrorism investigation or some other national security inquiry.

Yes, many of us have heard all about how our daily activities create some sort of virtual trail for interested parties to follow. That includes our use of credit, our use of web browsers and web mail services, our penchant for posting on social media, our adoption of highway toll transponders and transit smart cards, and our love affair with GPS-enabled smartphones. But even with the awareness that we’re leaving such a rich trail of evidence behind us, the convenience is worth it and our personal vulnerability to snooping is pretty low. Right?

The truth is that all our habits and investigators’ increasingly sophisticated use of technology is opening more and more of our lives to outsiders. To give us some idea about the exposure, NPR reporter Daniel Zwerdling and Center for Investigative Reporting journalist G.W. Schultz are launching a four-part series today on our digital trail and how it can be used against us.

Up above: That’s a teaser — an eye-opening four-minute video that demonstrates the many ways we can be tracked in the midst of what we think of as ordinary daily activities.

Here’s Schultz’s story on the CIR site: Easily obtained subpoenas turn your personal information against you

Here’s NPR’s link: Your Digital Trail, and How It Can Be Used Against You

  • David

    Nicely done ! You missed a big one, however–PG & E’s “Smart Meter” program.
    PG & E has installed these surveillance devices on most of the homes, businesses, and apartment complexes in California, and they never asked our permission. We decide when to go on Facebook, when to Twitter, and even when to shop. But our public utility companies in California can track us at home now. There is an “opt out” program, but they charge money to do so. $75.00 plus $10.00 per month. Many people can’t afford this. Lots of data can be mined from a smart meter, including when you are home, and which appliances you like to use the most, and when.

    This is an invasion of our 4th Amendment rights, in my opinion. Part of this implies (at least) that we have the right to be left alone.

    Is this even possible today ?

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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