Google, The Almighty

Knowledge is power, if you know it about the right person. ~Ethel Watts Mumford

It’s not just God up there, watching you

On Tuesday, Rep. Lamar Smith spoke to the Kendall County Republican Women’s PAC at its monthly luncheon.  I asked him his thoughts about this:

Spy planes able to photograph sunbathers in their back gardens are being deployed by Google and Apple.

The U.S. technology giants are racing to produce aerial maps so detailed they can show up objects just four inches wide.

Smith, who took a lot of (warranted) heat on his support for SOPA earlier this year, responded that, like me, he was a “privacy advocate” who takes privacy threats seriously.   He agreed that military grade spy planes buzzing overhead with the ability to photograph objects barely 4″ wide on the ground below is a big concern.   After talking about the possibility of requiring something akin to  “opt – in”, he noted:

It seems you ought to be able to see what Google is collecting on you.

Smith mentioned the possibility of a freedom of information act type thing essentially requiring Google, or any other company flying surveillance planes overhead to open up their files to “consumers”.  Sort of like credit agencies are required to do.

These companies are creating a dossier of information about you obtained without your permission  – meaning, you haven’t engaged in commerce outside your property, you haven’t signed a consent form or offered your implied consent in any way.

What surprised me though was Smith’s comment that what he, and I, tend to think of as common sense, such as requiring Google to allow citizens to opt out of the collecting and storing of personal information – is an idea generally not that popular among the general public.  He may have been referring back to some old wounds from the SOPA fight, but still, the comment floored me.

When did we as a citizenry begin to treat personal privacy so cavalierly?    If a stranger opened the gate to your backyard, and started taking photos of your garden, your swimming pool, your children playing in the pool — wouldn’t most of us demand that he leave? Wouldn’t most of us call the police?

If that man then sold those photos of your property to the government  – or to criminals desirous to know access points into your home or other information —  isn’t that criminal conspiracy?   Should others be able to easily profiteer from the sale of your personal information WHEN YOU HAVE NOT signed anything giving them the right to transact business off of you?

This is not the same as Facebook selling your “likes” or page views or Google feeding you ads in your Google mail.  When you sign up for those services, you agree to let them do that in return for using their “free” services.

We are at another fork in the road. According to Smith, further meetings on this subject are scheduled in DC mid July.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate, Senator Rand Paul has proposed a bill protecting Americans from drone surveillance.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Tuesday introduced the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, which would require the government to get a warrant before using aerial drones to surveil U.S. citizens.

More broadly, Paul’s bill is aimed at preventing “unwarranted governmental intrusion” through the use of drones, according to the lawmaker.

“Like other tools used to collect information in law enforcement, in order to use drones a warrant needs to be issued,” Paul said Tuesday. “Americans going about their everyday lives should not be treated like criminals or terrorists and have their rights infringed upon by military tactics.”


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