Over the last several months we have all been prompted to think about our privacy and how much of it we are willing to give up. How much information are we willing to allow our own government to collect if they are using it to protect us? Do we trust the government to limit its use of the data collected to security concerns? Or should we be concerned about access to that information and fear government overreach into other areas? How much personal information are we willing to share with private companies? How much control do we want over it?
I consider myself a Libertarian on privacy matters. Although I recognize that the government has legitimate reasons to access the private information of certain individuals, I also believe that this should be done only after a balanced legal process. Get a warrant based on reasonable suspicion of possible wrongdoing. This philosophy led me to vote against the so-called Patriot Act.
Lately we have all read some very alarming reports about:
- The NSA collecting telephone information on EVERY American and demanding information about EVERY American from our internet providers;
- Several corporations have already sold products that collect private information about us without our knowledge and others are considering deploying devices to gather even more private information from our cable boxes and televisions;
- Although many people knew their car contained a “black box” that collected certain information, more now know these devices are not subject to any state or federal laws;
- Most recently we learned that some of our own cities and states are collecting and retaining information about our personal travel and where we park our car.
These are not new issues or concerns for me and I am happy that they are finally receiving the attention they deserve. I am not opposed to modern technology. If someone wants to voluntarily share very personal information with the world, that is their right. But I feel very strongly that those of us who cherish our privacy should have as much control over that information as possible. This has led me to file three bills. One was filed for the first time in June. The others are bills I have filed previously. Here is a summary of each bill:
H.R. 2356, the We Are Watching You Act, was filed last month in response to reports and patents we came across about DVR technology that could be used to record people in the privacy of their own homes as they watch television. When we first read the reports, we were skeptical, until we read a Verizon patent application: http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PG01&s1=20120304206&OS=20120304206&RS=20120304206
According to the patent application, the set-top device will be able to distinguish “ambient action … of eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, humming, cleaning” and more. The application further notes that ambient action also “comprises an interaction between the user and another user” which are described as “at least one of cuddling, fighting, participating in a game or sporting event, and talking”.
I encourage you to read the patent, you will be stunned by the specificity. Here is another highlight: “if . . .a couple is arguing/fighting with each other” they may see an “advertisement associated marriage/relationship counseling”. If the device detects a “particular object (e.g., a Budweiser can) within a user’s surroundings, advertising facility 106 may select an advertisement associated with the detected object (e.g., a Budweiser commercial)”. According to the patent, moods can even be distinguished so viewers could see “an advertisement associated with the detected mood (e.g., a commercial for a stress-relief product such as aromatherapy candles, a vacation resort, etc.)”.
This is not just about Verizon. Other companies are pursuing similar technologies. The purpose is to target ads. H.R. 2356 requires prior consent before the technology can be installed. If the consumer consents, then the words “we are watching you” will scroll across the screen for the duration of the recording. This DVR technology isn’t being used yet, but shouldn’t we get ahead of this particular technology before it arrives in our living rooms?
H.R. 2414, the “Black Box Privacy Protection Act”, has to do with who has control over the information recorded by a vehicle’s “black box”. Under H.R. 2414 all data collected by the event data recorder (EDR) is the property of the vehicle owner. It could not be retrieved by anyone else without a court order. It also requires that all new cars equipped with EDRs give the vehicle owner the option to control the recording function. I have been filing this bill since 2006.
H.R. 2644, the “Reasonable Policies on Automated License Plate Readers Act” establishes privacy protections for the information obtained through automatic license plate readers. These readers are set up on police cars or as fixed cameras to capture thousands of license plates every hour. There is no statutory limit on how long the information can be stored or who can access it. I first filed this legislation in the last Congress. H.R. 2644 does not prohibit the use of the cameras. It simply requires police departments to delete the data after 30 days unless it is needed in an active police investigation. It also prevents the sharing of data outside the local police department. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) just released a study on license plate readers. The ACLU found that some police departments store the license plate data for years and the privacy protections surrounding the information vary widely. In many cases, there are no privacy protections.
I think it is long past time to have a real discussion about just how much data our government should be able to collect about us, how that data is used and how long it is stored. I have some strong feelings about that and have suggested some answers, but what I really want is a public discussion about all this so we can determine what we want as a society. I hope the recent publicity about some of these issues will lead to that discussion.
I don’t see tolls mentioned anywhere in the body. (Did I miss something, Bob?)
There’s no reason automated toll payment systems can’t be designed to maintain driver anonymity. Unfortunately, that horse left the barn long ago. But we certainly could now limit the sharing and retention of toll data.
I have to agree with bob neer here, Capuano has been a true leader on these issues.
I love hearing about important issues from my Congressman instead of the other way around.