Privacy: Expectations and Reality

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here. It surprises me that people don’t understand when the constitution applies and when it does not. This is very relevant in today’s privacy-sensitive world with the NSA wanting to see everything.

The constitution’s 4th amendment prevents the government from making unreasonable searches. That usually means a search warrant is required.

The fourth amendment does not prevent the government from recording and monitoring you if you are outside the United States because constitutional protections only apply inside the US. So when you travel internationally expect everything is legally recorded.

The fourth amendment does not prevent the government from spying on you if there are non-US citizens in your life, such as if you house an international student in your home. Those persons are also not protected and hence you lose your protection in most cases.

So let’s cut to the chase: You are always being monitored and recorded.

Google keeps a record of every search that you do. They track and follow you on your laptop and mobile phone. They have a complete history of every inquiry you make. I think we can now all agree on this.

The United States requires a search warrant to require Google to provide this information to them. Many falsely believe that this keeps you safe.

But Google may use what they have on you for any internal business purpose which is legal. They can also use it externally: “to protect against harm to the rights, property or safety of Google, our users or the public as required or permitted by law.”

This is the phrase that gets your data to the NSA.

You see, the law permits Google to hand over voluntarily any data to the NSA. The law allows Google to sell data to the NSA. There is absolutely nothing in Google’s privacy policy that prevents it from selling all of your data—every search query and web page visited—to the NSA.

You need to understand that privacy policies and contracts are interpreted very literally, People tend to read such contracts very much how they hope it will read.

Consider the phrase used in the Google Privacy Policy allowing them to make disclosures “For Legal Reasons.” Everybody that I talk to thinks this means that it allows Google to release data only when required by a legal reason. That is not what it says. They can disclose data for reasons which are legal, as opposed to reasons which are illegal.

Just assume that everything you say and write is going to the NSA, because, really, it is.