Thursday, March 23, 2023

How your digital traces end up in the hands of the police

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Michael Williams’ each the movement was being followed without his knowledge – even before the fire. In August, Williams, an associate of the R&B star and alleged rapist R. Kelly, reportedly used explosives to destroy the car of a potential witness. When police arrested Williams, evidence cited in a Justice Department affidavit has been drawn largely from his smartphone and his online behavior: texting the victim, cell phone recordings, and his research history.

Investigators served Google a “keyword mandateAsking the company to provide information on any user who had researched the victim’s address at the time of the arson. Police narrowed down the search, identified Williams, and then filed another search warrant for two Google accounts linked to him. They found other research: the “detonation properties” of diesel fuel, a list of countries that do not have extradition agreements with the United States, and YouTube videos of R. Kelly’s alleged victims. ‘addressing the press. Williams has pleaded not guilty.

Data collected for one purpose can always be used for another. Search history data, for example, is collected to refine recommendation algorithms or create online profiles, not to catch criminals. Habitually. Smart devices like speakers, Televisions, and clothing keep details of our lives so precise that they have been used both as incriminating and exonerating evidence in murder cases. Speakers do not have to hear crimes or confessions to be of use to investigators. They keep time-stamped logs of all requests, along with details of their location and identity. Investigators can access these logs and use them to verify the whereabouts of a suspect or even catch them in a lie.

It’s not just speakers or portable devices. In a year where some members of Big Tech have pledged to support activists demanding police reform, they have consistently sold devices and bundled apps that allow government access to much more intimate data. people than traditional warrants and policing methods would allow.

A November report in Vice found that users of the popular Muslim Pro app may have had their location data sold to government agencies. All number of applications request for location data, for example, the weather or to track your exercise habits. The Vice report found that X-Mode, a data broker, collected data from Muslim Pro users for prayer reminder purposes and then sold it to others, including federal agencies. Apple and Google forbids developers to transfer data in X-Mode, but it has already collected data from millions of users.

The problem is not just an individual application, but an overly complicated and under-examined data collection system. In December, Apple began to demand developers to disclose key details of privacy policies in a “nutrition label” for apps. Users “consent” to most forms of data collection when they click “Agree” after downloading an app, but the privacy policies are notoriously incomprehensibleand people often don’t know what they are agreeing to.

An easy-to-read summary like Apple’s nutrition label is useful, but even developers aren’t sure where the data their apps collect will end up going. (Many developers contacted by Vice admitted that they weren’t even aware that X-Mode had accessed user data.)

The pipeline between commercial and state surveillance is widening as we adopt more always-on devices and serious privacy concerns are dismissed with a single click on “I agree.” The national debate on policing and racial equity this summer highlighted this quiet cooperation. Despite the delay diversity numbers, indifference to white nationalism, and abuse of non-white employees, several tech companies ran to offer public support for Black Lives Matter and reconsider their links with law enforcement.

Amazon, which engaged millions of people in racial equity groups this summer, has vowed to take a break (but don’t stop) sale of facial recognition technology to police after defend the practice for years. But the company also noted an augmentation of police requests for user data, including internal logs kept by its smart speakers.


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