Although the U.S. Constitution contains no express right to privacy, the Supreme Court has held in numerous decisions handed down through the years that Americans enjoy protection against unwarranted government intrusion into their private lives.
In a June 2018 ruling especially pertinent to the digital age, the High Court held that police must first get a warrant before seizing location data from a person’s cell phone provider. Although the case was specific to cell phone data, the ruling has broad implications concerning state access to personal information gathered and stored by information technology companies. Although the Supreme Court may have thrown up a roadblock to the government picking over your personal data, you enjoy little protection in the digital world at large.
Whether you like it or not, you are being tracked any time you swipe a credit or debit card, text with a smart phone, send an email, or visit a website. Companies know where you go; they know where you shop; they know what you buy; and they know what you spend. They collect the information – every speck of it – and monetize it.
When was the last time someone gave private credit agencies Equifax, Experian or TransUnion permission to vacuum up their Social Security number, date of birth, past addresses, cell phone numbers, and drivers license number? Did you consent to let them track your mortgage and loan payments, and credit card balances? These same companies gather information you probably don’t share even with friends and family and sell that information for a profit.
Ironically, it was Equifax, that great paragon of identity safety, that suffered a monumental security breach in May, exposing the Social Security numbers of 145.5 million Americans to potential thieves and fraudsters. A total of 17.6 million more Americans had their drivers licenses exposed, and 209,000 had their credit card numbers revealed as part of the breach. I’m reasonably sure that not one of those people begged Equifax to collect and store their personal information in the first place.
Then of course, there is the internet – the vast and endless bloodstream of all digital life. By employing tracking cookies, the tech companies watch where you go on the internet and share that information with advertisers who target you as you click from site to site. Somewhere you have a detailed digital and financial profile that you never asked for. These days, information that you naively thought was private is simply appropriated by third parties, which sell it to the highest bidder.
Let’s face it; the digital age is here to stay, and its grip on humankind will only grow stronger as our grasp on privacy becomes weaker.