Will the iPhone 3G be the NSA’s best friend?

As I watched the streaming video of Steve Jobs’ keynote from yesterday’s start to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), I was delighted with the capabilities of the new 3G iPhone, the coming explosion of new applications and that this device will be so much more powerful…

…but I also am more paranoid than ever about the unprecedented tracking capability built into it.

Techcrunch’s Mike Arrington is simply in love. Josh Lowensohn thinks the server-based involvement provides Apple with a scary amount of marketing data. I’ll take Josh one step further and submit that any of we soon-to-be-3G-iPhone-owners should consider the possibility that — at some point soon or even a longtime down the road — government intelligence agencies (like the National Security Agency (NSA) currently doing warrantless wiretapping) will gleefully use location and presence aware devices like this for surveillance and tracking of our movements.

Who needs RealID when you’ve got a tracking device tied to our names, Social Security numbers, and credit records and is a product that we’ve purchased and love to have with us at all times?

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2 Comments

  1. Ken Kennedy on June 10, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    A horse that’s already well out of the barn, IMO, but always good to revisit as new circumstances remind us of the issues and consequences.

    Unfortunately (depending on your POV, I guess, but for me, definitely unfortunate), it’s not like this capability (albeit a bit more coarse-grained) is new. It’s just that we can see what the provider sees. Cell ID is already trivially used to triangulate your position with great accuracy; it’s not GPS-level, but interleaving known info about you and map data with your Cell ID trail gives a startlingly detailed map, even without adding in GPS data.

    David Brin’s book “Transparent Society” was an excellent early voice highlighting the potential issues with the deluge of data about us flowing through modern data networks. And it was written in the late 90s, so he actually foresaw the post-9/11 hysteria in a chillingly accurate way.

    His focus (correctly, IMO) is on the ASYMMETRY of transparency…when we have little privacy, but governments, large corporations, and criminals keep their actions secret, that’s when there’s a real potential for abuse. Sound like anything familiar? *grin* If you haven’t read it, you should…I think you’d really find a lot to think about in it.



  2. Todd Suomela on June 10, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Nature magazine just published a huge study that tracked the movements of 100,000 mobile phone users. The study was conducted by Alberto Barabasi who is a well known researcher on social networks. A BBC news story summarizes the findings and the purpose of the research.

    The comments on the Nature article immediately questioned the privacy implications of this study. Techdirt also has coverage of this controversy.

    I agree with Ken Kennedy that the hores has already left the barn. If network researchers are publishing in high level outlets like Nature I think we can guarantee that the NSA and the rest of the government have been using these systems for some time. I don’t know where Barabasi gets his funding but I’m sure some researcher out there has already gotten a juicy grant or two to track cell phone data for the government.



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