Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Momentum gaining for cell-phone privacy bill

Legislation by Texas state Rep. Bryan Hughes and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa  to require a warrant for cell phone location data continues to get good publicity. Mike Ward's piece in the Austin Statesman has been picked up widely - I even saw a reprint in an Aussie publication. The Dallas News covered the cell phone bill, Rep. Lance Gooden's drone bill, and another bill related to smart meters in a piece on privacy legislation. There was an op ed in the Houston Chronicle last week in support. And the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a supportive editorial on Monday.

The state of Maine has its own legislation moving in the statehouse to require warrants for cell phone location data. According to this source, "Legislation targeting different aspects of geolocation privacy has already been introduced in at least 11 states and the U.S. House of Representatives." States with currently pending legislation on the topic include Maryland, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia. A bill in California last year passed both chambers but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Obama Administration is doing all it can to help Republicans support these bills by staking out the most extremist, pro-government positions on location privacy imaginable. (If his supporters are not embarrassed by that stance, they have lost the capacity for shame.)

Meanwhile, new research published last week shows that historical location data, far from the portrayal by law enforcement as being too inaccurate to constitute a search, actually provides a virtual "fingerprint" by which it's possible to identify individuals from just a few data points. Reported Slate:
An oft-repeated refrain among the privacy conscious is that a cellphone is really a tracking device that lets you make calls. But a major new study suggests the digital trail left by a cellphone can identify more than mere movements—it can be used as a “fingerprint” to identify people with a striking degree of accuracy.
In a report published this week, a team including researchers from MIT and Harvard revealed that anonymized cellphone location data demonstrate patterns of behavior that could be used to identify a person. They were able to “uniquely identify 95 percent of the individuals” so long as they had hourly updates showing cellphone location and could measure it against four distinct “spatio-temporal points” on a map. The finding was significant. It illustrates “fundamental constraints to an individual's privacy,” according to the researchers.
The Texas legislation will move forward first in the House, where the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee is expected to vote out a committee substitute to the bill in the next week. On its face, the votes appear to be there. An extraordinary list of 106 House members (out of 150) have joined Rep. Bryan Hughes as "authors" of the bill, including six of nine committee members and nine of 15 members of the Calendars Committee, which sets bills to be heard on the House floor. While some in law enforcement remain opposed, the so far it seems to have strong momentum.

1 comment:

RSO wife said...

That could explain why the state generously gives cell phones to guys on parole. Good way to keep track of them, not only do they have the number they provide but they have a tracking device too. Didn't realize they were that smart.