Monday, August 30, 2010

Location and Privacy - What is the New "Reasonable"

Location has arrived – and it is raising all sorts of privacy concerns. In the past few months alone:

1. Facebook launches “Places” and within hours the media and privacy begin criticizing the service as failing to adequately, address privacy concerns.

2. Congressman Bobby Rush introduces legislation that would for the first time regulate on a broad scale the collection, use and distribution of location information on individuals in the U.S..

3. Federal appeals court in District of Columbia finds that the use of a tracking device to monitor a suspect for a month without obtaining a warrant was an an unreasonable search and seizure. This decision directly conflicts other court decisions, with some suggesting that Supreme Court may have to resolve issue.

4. Media reports that citizens on Long Island are complaining that government agencies are acting like Big Brother by using Google Earth to find unpermitted swimming pools in backyard.

5. Government officials in Germany are considering increasing regulations on Google collecting Street View imagery as a result of privacy concerns.

6. Article details how much sensitive information can be obtained from geotagged photos posted on-line.

7. Decision expected from federal court on whether law enforcement needs to obtain a warrant before obtaining location information from mobile phone provider.

8. In Maine, the attorney general struggles whether to allow GPS devices to be attached to citizens' cars by lenders wishing to track vehicle usage for resale of auto loans.

Each of these are examples of how society is grappling with how to deal with the impact of different technologies on the concept of privacy from a location standpoint. As these technologies becomes more ubiquitous, the complexity of the issues are only going to increase. (For example, companies will use software that will predict where you are going to be in the future based upon where you have been in the past.)

I do not know how all this will play out. (Althought I have some ideas!) However, my sense is that this is much bigger - and the conversation should be much broader - than debating such things as whether location privacy settings on Facebook should be opt-in or opt out. What is needed is an informed dialogue and debate on how location technology is changing our lives and which are privacy concerns are legitimate and which are normal reactions to being uncomfortable with the introduction of new technology.

Location technology has the potential to save lives, provide valuable commercial and governmental services and make our planet a better and more sustainable place to live. However, it will never reach its full potential until consistent and transparent laws and policies surrounding location privacy are developed!


Marshall Kirkpatrick said...

" it will never reach its full potential until consistent and transparent laws and policies surrounding location privacy are developed!"

Well put (the whole post) and I too worry that these challenges represent not just a potential delay of these technologies but a more fundamental risk to their adoption, development and positive social impact.

Kevin said...

I believe that one of the problems is that currently the legal and policy disciplines are not set up to think broadly, and proactively, across technology platforms. Another is that many in the technology community do not want to engage lawyers in the dialogue because they see lawyers - with some validity - as roadblocks.

Alvis Brigis said...

Nice post Kevin. Am eager to hear you prescriptions for location data collection, use, transparency, etc.

Agree 100% that legislators are failing to think broadly enough, are acting in purely reactive capacity, in many areas. I think much of this is related to convergent acceleration of tech, info, comm - this heavily relies on systems mapping - my perspective here - This perspective must diffuse if we're to speed up our legal systems. Would be very interested to learn your perspective on acceleration.

Kevin said...


Thanks. I read your post, but am frankly not smart enough to undersatnd most of it. Having said that I believe the best prescription is to create a meaningful dialogue between the technical and legal communities. We are trying to do this within the OpenGeospatial Consortium, through the Spatial Law and Policy Committee and are having some success. As I see it the challenges are one of vocabulary - making sure that both communities is speaking the same language - and trust - the technical community, with some good reason, does not see the legal community as being a problem solver in this area.

Brian said...

Thanks for your post, it was interesting. Do you have the citation for #3 and any info I could use to watch for the issuance of the opinion mentioned in #7?

Kevin said...

The DC case is U.S. v. Maynard - I dont' have the citation. I believe the other is in the 3rd Cir., but will post the decision when it is released.

arshad said...

Hi its really very nice blog,very useful information..Mobiles