WikiLeaks subpoena upheld: spatial privacy at issue

Emptywheel (a blog!) has news and analysis of yesterday’s US court ruling that the American government can subpoena Twitter account information. It looks like this has implications for among other things the debate on geographical privacy (“geoprivacy”) and the spatial fineness of scale that you can be monitored to.

Twitter was able to warn three people, including a current member of the Icelandic parliament, that the US sought to subpoena their Twitter account details,

far more disturbing and significant, however, is the ease with which the court dismissed the Fourth Amendment claim:

“Here, petitioners have no Fourth Amendment privacy interest in their IP addresses. The Court rejects petitioners’ characterization that IP addresses and location information, paired with inferences, are “intensely revealing” about the interior of their homes. The Court is aware of no authority finding that an IP address shows location with precision, let alone provides insight into a home’s interior or a user’s movements. Thus the Kyllo and Karo doctrines are inapposite. Rather, like a phone number, an IP address is a unique identifier, assigned through a service provider.”

It strikes me as less than fully plausible that locational data cannot be mined from social networks and IP logins (especially as made via cell phones and other mobile devices). Many services such as Google Location and Twitter have locational tagging (which you can currently turn on or off) that you may be using.

The question of what is a precise location is also at stake here. Should there be a “do not track” rule (like do not call) and should companies have to affirmatively gain your consent before collecting data about you (as is the case, I believe, in Europe)?

Not surprisingly, the surveying group MAPPS (which was  involved in litigation with the AAG a few years ago and lost) is against privacy protections and has long lobbied Congress to delete the geoprivacy provision.

Similarly, Kevin Pomfret at the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy (Virginia) and a former imagery intelligence analyst, questions the meaning of “precise geolocational information.” Pomfret’s take on this is nuanced; he observes that although we have no right of privacy expectation in public, what if other governments (he mentions China) surveill its citizens to quell protest–wouldn’t we (ie the US) want to reject that practice?

I wonder what other geographical implications we’re facing?


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