Our Phone, Our Place

Abby S. - LLI Akron

Most people have cell phones, and most people use them daily, from calling and texting to playing games and browsing the internet. People use phones for just about everything and keep some pretty sensitive stuff on them that they consider private, not realizing just how far it can get.

Frictionless sharing, which automatically lets people know what you’re reading, watching, listening to, etc. happens all the time, and we think nothing of it. In the article “That’s Not a phone, that’s my Tracker,” Paul Ohm writes, “Every year, private companies spend millions of dollars to come up with new services that track, store, and share the words, movements, and even the thoughts of their customers.” He even calls phone tracking devices instead of smart phones.

This data collecting is nothing new. Phone companies have been collecting and storing this data, even saving some of it for years, according to the justice department. The Third Party Doctrine says that if you voluntarily surrender information to a third party, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

In 2012, cell phone carriers responded to more than 1.3 million requests for information obtained from GPS tracking.  And because of the Third Party Doctrine, many of these requests didn’t even obtain search warrants for the information.

One example of this is with Carpenter v. United States, where the government used data collected from Metro PCS and Sprint, Metro PCS produced 127 days of historical cell site records which they used to identify the location of Carpenter’s phone. Police can request this information without a warrant, and in many cases, the phone companies release the information.

The court says that a person should have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” and most people would probably want their location and phone data to stay private. It is unjust that companies can keep and share our data and locations without our consent or a warrant.