“Many Americans would be surprised by how easily local law enforcement, IRS investigators, the FBI and private attorneys can reach into the vast pool of personal information about their lives with little more than a subpoena, which no judge needs to review,” write G.W. Schulz and Daniel Zwerdling.
“And it’s not just for selling you more products or services. It can be wielded against you.”
“We used to have to rely on private investigators,” said Lee Rosen, a divorce attorney in North Carolina whose office averages dozens of subpoenas each month. “Now everything we need is more or less on the other side of the keyboard.”
Often, a simple form is all that’s required to access prescription histories, credit card purchases, monthly banking statements, ATM withdrawals, wire transfers, tax returns and, perhaps most importantly, the rich digital portraits we keep on our smartphones.
Law enforcement can create a map or timeline of a person’s whereabouts by accessing data from license-plate scanners, toll-bridge crossings and mobile phone carriers and, without much trouble, access records on your power consumption, purchasing habits and even snail mail.
The more we leave heaps of digital detritus behind, privacy advocates say, the more we may have to answer for it to someone with an ax to grind, an investigation to close or a client to represent.
“The digital world has suddenly given us a wealth of information like we never had before,” Rosen said. “The floodgates of data have opened up.”
Today’s Question: How vigilant are you in keeping your data private?