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Putting a Value on Privacy

Photo: Alan Cleaver/flickr


A 19 February article by Newsweek (The Snitch in Your Pocket Law enforcement is tracking Americans’ cell phones in real time—without the benefit of a warrant), attempts to revive the debate about the government’s forays into the realm of “Big Brother” (a cliché no mainstream media outlet can avoid).

The FBI, according to the article, has been seeking “unusually sensitive records: internal data from telecommunications companies” that show “the locations of their customers’ cell phones – sometimes in real time, sometimes after the fact.” This information, according to federal prosecutors, is used to trace the movements of suspected drug traffickers, human smugglers and corrupt officials. The story was revived because a few federal magistrates questioned the legal authority for obtaining this information. The report notes that there are some 277 million cell phone users in the US, and that companies like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint can track their devices in real time. It also quoted ‘experts’ as saying that most people do not realize this.

Lately, according to Newsweek, citing law enforcement officials, court records and telecommunications executives, “the FBI and other law-enforcement outfits have been obtaining more and more records of cell-phone locations – without notifying the targets or getting judicial warrants establishing ‘probable cause.’
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Mobile Phones Transform Development

Before the internet comes the mobile phone / Photo: Esthr, flickr

They are among the most underdeveloped countries in the world. Only a minority of their people has access to electricity. Clean drinking water remains a distant dream. Many of their children continue to die of diseases that have long become extinct here in the West or are easily preventable.

But in one area, developing countries are clearly ahead of the industrialized world: the use of mobile phone applications.

Three-quarters of the world’s mobile phones are believed to be owned by people in developing countries.

In Africa, more people own mobile phones (37 percent) than have access to electricity (25 percent). (Note: Phones are often charged using rather ingenious methods, such as old car batteries). According to one estimate, about a billion people, most of them in the developing world, don’t have a bank account but – guess what? – own a cell phone.
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