Writing at Balkinization, Frank Pasquale outlines the harm that can come from the systematic massive surveillance being carried on in the name of security:
To make this more concrete: note that the US’s intelligence apparatus has already extensively monitored libertarians and peace activists. According to the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, “from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat.” During Occupy Wall Street, investigative journalists uncovered command centers advised by federal and local officials and banks. Skeptics wondered whether banks’ lucrative “private detail pay” and donations for police helped motivate multiple, brutal crackdowns on peaceful (if unorthodox) protesters. Homeland security officials may have advised local police on containment of the hundreds of “Occupy” encampments that arose in the fall of 2011. And in terms of selective enforcement: one has to wonder why police decided to care about a six-year-old open container violation at the homes of activists one day before May Day protests.
The post is highly documented, thoughtful, realistic, and non-hysterical.
To his remarks I would add that if you gave me access to the information that’s apparently being collected I have a high degree of confidence that I could predict your day-to-day movements and only slightly less confidence that I could predict what you’d do when you got there. That such information could have considerable value in a business intelligence context is not paranoia it’s obvious. The information could prove useful to criminals, bosses, spouses and who knows how many other individuals and organizations. It is equally obvious that if value can be extracted from something it will be.
The difference between government officials collecting such data and big businesses retaining such data as they collect it in the course of business is recourse. Due to the civil service shield laws there is no recourse when information is misused by the government and because of the absence of such recourse the disincentives to misuse the data are small. If those protections were removed it would go a long way towards assuaging my concerns.
Some other things that might be considered on why we should be concerned about the federal government retaining and using information that large companies, too, are retaining and using. First, the parallel is in no way exculpatory of government action. Second, there are no trillion dollar companies.