How’s this for a headline?
No, it was not in some supermarket tabloid. It was a recent front page article in The New York Times.
The Times was reporting about a German politician who became curious about what information his cellphone provider, Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile, in the U.S.) was collecting about him.
We know, at least if we think about it, that your cellphone provider needs to know where you are — otherwise, how could it ring your phone when you get a call?
The question, then, is what do they do with the information? You might think it is not interesting or valuable enough for them to retain. Or, you might think there are some privacy safeguards in the law somewhere that would protect you.
But you would be wrong on both counts.
After a prolonged legal battle, the politician obtained the records showing what Deutsche Telekom had collected about him. The results were astounding. Over a six-month period, DT had recorded his location (longitude and latitude), along with date and time, over 35,000 times.
Think about what this means. Unbeknownst to him, his every move was recorded in a database controlled by his cellphone provider. A German newspaper created an amazing visualization of his activities, based solely on the information from DT — be sure to check this out.
Wouldn’t the East German Stasi have loved to have access to a database like that on their citizens?
In the United States, cellphone records are routinely obtained in criminal investigations. Even without a subpoena if there is a possible terror connection.
What about a civil suit? Could a divorce lawyer obtain those records?
The Times reports a lawyer from the Electronic Frontier Foundation as saying that since phones are such a necessary part of modern life, “you have to hand over your personal privacy to be part of the 21st century”.
What do you think about this? Did you know you were making a Faustian bargain when you got that spiffy new iPhone?