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Banksy had it right: The future holds a mere 15 minutes of anonymity for everyone

Sep 14, 20116 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityMicrosoft

Graffiti artist Banksy may have had it right when he claimed invisibility is a superpower and in the future you can be anonymous for only 15 minutes. There are now privacy invasive plans to track the sale of spray paint, prepaid cards, and your license plate.

All humans have a superpower. Now don’t scoff and roll your eyes as your superpower is more like where you excel or are naturally gifted. For some people, it’s organizing an event, raising money, cheering people up, “the gift of gab,” etc. While nowhere as effective as Harry Potter’s invisibility cape, some people who are concerned about privacy have the “superpower” of invisibility. Other folks post nearly every thought that floats through their head onto one social networking site or the other. Just because you can post it, doesn’t mean you should. One of the reasons that I like graffiti artist extraordinaire Banksy is because he too has said, “I don’t know why people are so keen to put the details of their private life in public. They forget that invisibility is a superpower.” Years ago at Banksy’s Barely Legal art show, whether he was joking or not, he had the foresight to see this truth: “In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes.”

There is a L.A. City Councilman, Dennis Zine, who seems to be ready and willing to kick aside constitutional rights like freedom of speech by requiring stores that sell spray paint to act as snitches by copying all info from buyers’ IDs. LAWeekly reported that Zine introduced a “motion that would require stores to get and keep your name and address if you buy spray cans and ‘graffiti paraphernalia’ such as ‘spray paint nozzles, paint pens, glass cutting, and etching tools.'”

To which ACLU staff attorney Peter Bibring more or less said, see ya in court and good luck with that unconstitutional motion. Bibring said, “They’re potentially making a suspect out of everyone who buys a certain kind of paint. You’re saying anybody who buys a particular kind of art material is singled out as a potential criminal suspect. Singling out a First Amendment activity is potentially a prob under the constitution.”

Everywhere you look, someone is pushing to invade privacy and track other people in some new and head-shaking, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding way. For example, the EFF previously warned us that the government plans to pry into your privacy if you send any money overseas. And now, in the name of fighting terrorism, the government plans to track prepaid payment methods like prepaid reloadable gift cards and prepaid debit/credit cards.

Last year, FBI Director Robert Mueller pointed out that “pre-paid gift cards and reloadable debit cards” have created a “void” in collecting vital intelligence to fight money laundering and identity theft. “This has created a ‘shadow’ banking system.” Criminal organizations previously escaped radar by loading prepaid cards slightly under $10,000 which was the limit that required reporting. Cards that are not tied to a banking account were previously referred to as “stored value,” but are now called “prepaid access.”

According to Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a branch of the Treasury Department, this move to track prepaid cards will balance the “needs of law enforcement and industry.”

“Prepaid Access” under the final rule covers prepaid devices such as plastic cards, mobile phones, electronic serial numbers, key fobs and/or other mechanisms that provide a portal to funds that have been paid for in advance and are retrievable and transferable.

TheNewAmerican reported, “As usual, the real losers would be, not terrorists who won’t comply anyway, but innocent Americans, or travelers, and card issuers burdened with yet another layer of record keeping and compliance procedures.” In fact, prepaid cards serve as the only “ready access” credit/payment for more than 17 million Americans with poor credit ratings. The article added that “The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) reported last year in an examination of the cash cards that the United States is the biggest user of prepaid cards and that by 2017 will account for 53% of the worldwide market.”

While I’d like to see big crimes stopped, it seems that privacy always ends up the loser when clashing with some type of technology and being weighed against the dreaded balancing of security.

In yet another alarming trend of tracking, privacy and civil liberty experts told the BostonHerald that they are concerned about Automatic License Plate Recognition (APLR) devices. After scanning vehicles, it checks the license plate against any possible warrants, police alerts, traffic and/or parking tickets. While police believe APLR “could be an invaluable tool in thwarting crime,” privacy watchdogs say it could also create a “Big Brother database that could map drivers’ whereabouts with police cruiser-mounted scanners that capture thousands of license plates per hour – storing that information indefinitely where local cops, staties, feds and prosecutors could access it as they choose.”

Civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate asked, “What kind of a society are we creating here? There comes a point where the surveillance is so pervasive and total that it’s a misnomer to call a society free any longer.” Silvergate added, “To the American people, freedom means something. There is a line to draw in the sand, beyond which you don’t want the government poking its nose. This crosses the line.”

There is no doubt that we want law enforcement to have the tools to track down real terrorist threats, but too often we’ve seen the potential for abuse by using such surveillance against law-abiding citizens who are not guilty of any crimes. And although the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and heightened terror threat thankfully did not result in a terrorist attack against the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress, “We consider it as an ongoing threat.” AFP reported that FBI director Mueller added, “It is a standing threat that we are following up on.”

The thing is, more and more people, journalists, organizations and investigative reports are exposing abuses. They are also asking, why do we need to continue to tighten security and watch our constitutional rights crumble a decade after 9/11? The ACLU even created an interactive map of the 33 of 50 states that are actively spying on Americans and our First Amendment rights.

Like this? Here’s more posts:

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  • Windows XP on TSA laptops? TSA Dinged in Wireless Cybersecurity Audit
  • Ridiculous FBI list: You might be a domestic terrorist if . . .
  • ACLU to Congress: Cancer of Gov’t Secrecy Is Killing America
  • You might be a terrorist if you take a photo or film at Mall of America
  • Cyberwar & Certified Lies: 531 Spy Certs target CIA, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla
  • ISP Customer Sales FAIL: using ‘it’s OK they all invade privacy’ argument
  • FBI Eyeing Microsoft Technologies to Assist Law Enforcement
  • Underground Economy: Mapping the Price of Pot Across the Internet

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.