Privacy and the Tweeting Vending Machine

Tweeting Vending MachineThere’s what’s meant to be an light and amusing story making the rounds in the news these days about a hacking group in England that broke into a vending machine and programmed it to tweet messages about who purchased what. In England they have something called an RFID card which when used identifies the name of the person making the purchase.

A lot of comments on the story expressed the idea that it was no one’s business what food they ate and this was an invasion of their privacy.

It’s an interesting privacy issue. I agree that it’s no one’s business what I eat but there is no constitutional protection here in the United States to prevent anyone from watching your purchases and learning your dietary habits. Whenever you use any form of electronic payment there is a real trail of what you have purchased and when.

Even if you use cash to avoid such a trail there are cameras in the stores and the transactions were recorded. Anyone with appropriate rights could access the receipt from the time you were in the line and determine what you purchased. It’s perfectly legal and in many ways quite helpful. If the grocery store knows your purchasing habits they can offer you coupons for the products you use.

It’s a similar situation on the internet when you visit Amazon to purchase my latest novel, The Broken Throne (which I’m sure you’ll be doing right now, yes now, come back and finish the blog later).

When you arrive at Amazon, after you make the purchase, scroll to the bottom of the screen and note that there are a bunch of recommendations. This is because Amazon tracks you when you enter the website and keeps a forever record of all the purchases you’ve made. They correlate this against their database and algorithms offer suggestions.

The same is true when you visit almost any major website and sign-in. These daily conveniences are quite helpful and useful but they do bring forth the startling reality that our expectation of privacy does not equate to reality. You can choose to live “off the grid” but that means you don’t get access to many of the very nice things the grid offers.

Modern society allows us to keep track of vast amounts of information that would otherwise not have been available. This raises privacy concerns. Should the local law-enforcement division be aware of how much bourbon I purchase? Might it be used against me in some criminal case down the road? Might a person with a grudge against me simply broadcast the information far and wide in an attempt to embarrass me?

The answer is yes. Those things might happen. That’s why we have laws against slander and defamation. We have laws to restrain police agencies from harassing citizens.

That’s why Libertarians like myself worry when police and government agencies are given more authority in an effort to “make us safe”. I recently wrote that seizure laws are out of control in this country and that’s just one example of our liberties being eroded under the guise of protection.

One of the things I find most distressing is the absolute willingness, nay eagerness, to take away freedoms from those who support the opposite political party. Be it trying to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for taking her Constitutionally granted right to avoid self-incrimination or animal lovers using the government to destroy legitimate business.

The people of this country leap up and applaud when the rights of their political foes are stripped and, because we live in a Representative Republic, the politicians are quick to follow suit.

As far as I’m concerned; your rights are my rights. It’s just as important now as it was two-hundred and twenty-six years ago.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere

Zumba Madam and Privacy in Maine

There’s an interesting case making its way through the Maine judicial system. A young woman named Alexis Wright and her partner, Mark Strong, are accused of running a prostitution ring through a Zumba studio. The reason it is big news is that Wright video-taped some encounters and kept excellent records.

The controversy is that the names of the men who used the service are possibly going to be made public. Apparently the men on the list make up a high-profile segment of the population of Kennebunk, Maine. They are fighting to make sure their names are not revealed as it will damage their reputation and hurt innocent people (their families). They argue this “list of shame” unfairly lists men who have not been convicted of a crime.

I find the case interesting for several reasons. I’m skeptical that prostitution should be illegal in the first place, fodder for another blog. The main reason I’m intrigued is the idea that somehow the people who hired the woman are thought to be entitled to privacy protection when they are accused of a crime. When anyone is accused of a crime, except juveniles, their name is released to the public.

The men who used the service are claiming that such an accusation will ruin their family dynamic and their reputation in the community. Their children will be subject to schoolyard bullying, their wives subject to vicious gossip, etc.

The idea that prostitution is a victimless crime is fairly reasonable. Certainly it is two adults who willingly engage in a contract and neither is a victim. There are victims, namely the families of both parties, but the reality is that we have little or no control of anyone else and if a relative chooses to behave shamefully there’s not much we can do about it.

My conclusion is that there should be no legal difference between a prostitute, a madam, or a client. If I get a traffic ticket that’s a matter of public record. If I choose to visit a woman for sexual favors, and it is regarded as a crime, then I should expect to have my name released.

As a Libertarian I find that the mantra of personal responsibility that dominates political talk is just that these days … talk. I’ve found that those who talk about personal responsibility the most seem to be the ones who practice it the least. Not a surprise there.

What do you think?

[polldaddy poll=6606995]

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water

Privacy in the Modern World – Conclusions

PrivacyAfter a day off to talk about the magnificent sports rivalry between Kansas and Missouri that, barring a change of heart, has come to a conclusion I return to the highly popular issue of privacy in the United States and its impact on our freedom and safety.

Over the last few days I’ve discussed the definition of privacy and how it has changed over the years with advancing technology first from things like photographs to today’s computer age. What I want to discuss today involves how that technology and change in privacy is going to effect both our privacy and our freedom.

One of the most powerful new tools in the hands of both citizens and government law enforcement is remote surveillance devices. We’ve seen stoplight cameras for a few years and individual states have rulings on their legality in regards to the Sixth Amendment to the constitution of the U.S. I don’t want to get into that level of detail in this post and I’ll keep things more general.

The idea is that the state has certain legal tools which they use to promote the general safety of its citizens. We have traffic laws so that rogue drivers don’t put innocents at risk, the police serve a useful and important purpose in society. The difference between Libertarianism and Anarchy is an important distinction and all too often I think Libertarians slip into a more Anarchistic point of view. Again, I’ll save that topic for a later post.

We are going to see a huge increase of state operated drone vehicles in our skies and on our roads in the next few years. Largely these will be placed under the auspices of securing our safety and there is no doubt they do offer benefits in that regard. But, they also take away from our privacy. In the U.S. we are guaranteed protection from the state unless they have reason to watch us. The government cannot come into our homes without a warrant and they cannot listen to our conversations without probable cause but remote surveillance devices are always on, always watching.

Another factor is that citizens now have a far greater ability to watch the state. With remote control vehicles more readily available and increasingly powerful we can check up on the police and other government agents to make sure they are not overstepping the laws in the prosecution of criminals. We can also use such devices to watch for legal violations of neighbors, local businesses, and just about anything we want.

This opens up a huge area of questions. If I use my increasingly sophisticated remote control helicopter to spy on a neighbor, say, hitting his child, and then turn that over to family services what is the constitutional answer? Did I break the law? Should they go to prison? Have their child removed? Hidden camera have been used to tape people in normally private behavior for the purpose of humiliation or blackmail and has led to suicide.

It’s a hugely complex issue and I can’t come up with a single solution but I’d offer up this advice. Surveillance cameras offer useful tools to law enforcement and private citizens but also present significant issues in the realm of privacy. We have the right to privacy in our own house but there are ever increasing chances that it will be violated by people using such devices for their own purposes, well-intentioned or not.

In conclusion I offer the only advice that seems plausible.

  1. Diligently protect our freedom by prosecuting those who use such devices in violations of existing privacy laws.
  2. Invest in devices that pick up wireless signals that might be emanating from your residence.
  3. Keep your curtains closed.
  4. And most importantly, embrace Libertarianism. We have the right to privacy and we should respect that others have the same right.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Privacy throughout History


On the surface this post is about how privacy has changed throughout history with advancing technology but the subtext is our privacy and how the state’s right to protect us is going to be clash in an ever increasing fashion. How we manage that is important to the future of the United States.

How Privacy has Changed

Now, on to the topic at hand, how privacy has changed both legally and in our expectations over the years. One of the first opinions about privacy written in the U.S. was The Right to Privacy by Samuel Warren and future Supreme Court justice Louis Brandies. In this article they point out that privacy was extended over the years to include things like vibration and dust as the world changed.

Privacy certainly factors into zoning laws as we would not want a factory to move to the middle of a residential region. These things make perfect sense to us today but when there was no such thing as a factory they did not merit consideration.

Privacy Rights

The main thrust of the paper was the intrusions that photography and newspapers presented warranted a new interpretation of privacy laws. I’d suggest a full perusal of the article because it is beautifully argued and astonishingly pertinent to today’s world even if the technologies discussed are outdated. It is fairly lengthy and you might want to skip down to the six enumerated privacy rights points.

Basically, people have the right to their personal lives and other people cannot splash that across the media without permission. Public figures fall under a different set of rules. That being said, personally I find the invasion of privacy of celebrities and politicians to be disgusting. The courts have ruled it legal enough.

Modern Technology

Now, as to today’s technology and what it means for our privacy. The use of secure “land-line” phones is slowly going away and cellular phones broadcast over the open airwaves. This means anyone can technically listen in on your conversations if they have certain information and equipment. We increasingly use encrypted wireless devices . This does not prevent the possibility of someone is eavesdropping on those conversations.

Every email you send does not go directly to the recipient. It passes through numerous other computers on the way to that person. Anyone with access to said computers can read your email.

Most of our purchases are made with credit or debit cards which are tied directly to our person. This means that information about our shopping habits is readily available to sellers. Every page we browse on the internet is tracked and you can’t eliminate this by stopping tracking cookies on your computer. There is a record of your computer visiting a particular site at all times.

We will increasingly consume media through streaming venues which again is information available for capture.

What does it Mean

What does all this mean? It means that things we once considered private are now publicly available for consumption. My shopping habits, movie watching habits, reading habits, music listening habits, and other things are now public knowledge.

Most importantly what rights does this give the state and their law enforcement arms to access such information. There have been a bevy of cases testing the limits of this in recent years. Technology called Forward Looking Infrared allows police to see if we are using certain kinds lights in our house. The Supreme Court ruled this an invasion of our Fourth Amendment rights.

We will see a huge increase of drones patrolling our skies in the future as well as more cameras in many public places to watch for criminal activity. All of these things have both their good and bad sides. How they are used and the laws associated with their use will greatly effect our privacy in the coming years.

This is an incredibly important issue in the United States today because it pits our privacy and, to a large degree, freedom against the state’s duty to protect us from criminal mischief. That’s what I’m going to write about on Sunday. What right does that state have to invade our privacy in order to protect us? Stay tuned!

I’ve got a special article on tap for Saturday but I’ll let you know about that later on today!

As always, comment, tweet, stumble, digg, like, link, and otherwise share if you think others might be interested!

Tom Liberman

Teaser – Privacy throughout History

PrivacyOn Thursday I tried to dissect the tangled weave of what privacy actually means and Friday I’ll review the history of privacy rights and the influence technology has had on them. I frequently hear people talk about the absolute nature of right and wrong but often times the definition of thing varies over time and culture.

I think that’s the case with privacy laws but after you read my take on the situation you can tell me what you think.

Tune in tomorrow to learn the exciting history of privacy!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Privacy in the United States – Definition

Privacy is a complex issue in the United States. The advent of new technology is changing not only the perceived definition of privacy but also its reality. In this series of blogs I’m going to take on this complex issue and examine how it relates to every citizen of this county and, more generally, to the idea of Libertarianism and free thinking.

As is my want, I’ll start out with the general definition. This is a difficult concept because there is the definition of privacy, the general expectation of privacy, and the actual fact of privacy law in the U.S. Surprisingly, these three things are fairly widely divergent.

First I want to examine simply the concept of privacy. The dictionary seems a good place to start. Sadly, I don’t have a subscription to the magnificent Oxford English Dictionary site but Merriam Webster comes to the rescue.

a. the quality or state of being apart from company or observation

b. freedom from unauthorized intrusion <one’s right to privacy>

I think we are largely talking about definition “b” in this case. Our right to privacy from unauthorized intrusion. The first definition concerns itself more with my individual right to hide in my room typing my blog, writing my latest book, and playing Skyrim.

Now, as to our perception of privacy. An interesting story recently demonstrated that, largely, our sense of what is private does not mesh with reality. I don’t want to get into the details of the story but basically it talks about how our shopping habits, tracked through our credit, debit, and reward cards gives retailers a great deal of information about us.

We think that is private for the simple reason that until the advent of massive database tracking it was impossible for someone to keep track of that much information. Those sorts of databases now exist and combined with identifying tools like reward cards and tracking cookies it is possible for people to not only keep that information but mine it for gain, both yours and theirs.

How does that help me? It helps me everyday when I’m on the computer. Advertisements that interest me show up in my browser, books that correspond to my reading habits show up every time I visit Barnes and Noble or Amazon to check on the rather anemic sales of my books. This sort of targeted advertising will only increase as the technology blooms. When I check in at the grocery story my phone will tell me items on sale that I’ve purchased in the past. When my shirts start to get to be a year or so old  I’ll get an automated message from Brooks Brothers that I need some new ones.

These are the sorts of things we once thought private but are quickly finding out are not. If, say, I purchase an inordinate amount of Bookers Bourbon in a month perhaps I might get a call from an alcoholic center. It’s difficult to say how far this information will go but its safe to say that where there is money to be made the technology will follow.

When you are talking on the cell phone or send an email there is no privacy. That is open line communication and fully non-private. Everything you do on the computer at your workplace, browse the internet, send instant messages to your loved ones, or play solitaire is managed by the Information Technology team at your office. None of it is private.

Every web page you visit is tracked although this is where we start to get into the legal definition of privacy. While certain information is available it is not necessarily admissible in a court of law.

So, as to the legal definition of privacy in the U.S. There are different laws for public and private figures and I’m mostly going to talk about personal privacy for now. Public figures have less privacy than non-public ones for a variety of reasons.

As far as most of us are concerned, privacy laws essentially protect us from someone finding out information about us to either publicly disclose or use for personal gain. Yellow Journalism and the advent of the easily available cameras spurred many new laws in the past and new technologies are changing the landscape almost every day.

To try and wrap up part one I’ll mention the idea of tort law in the U.S. in regards to privacy. There are basically four areas covered and I’d recommend a long perusal of the Wikipedia article for better information.

  1. Intrusion of solitude: physical or electronic intrusion into one’s private quarters.
  2. Public disclosure of private facts: the dissemination of truthful private information which a reasonable person would find objectionable
  3. False light: the publication of facts which place a person in a false light, even though the facts themselves may not be defamatory
  4. Appropriation: the unauthorized use of a person’s name or likeness to obtain some benefits.

Ok, that’s it for part 1. Tomorrow I’m going to try and take on the history of privacy in the U.S. and how technology has, and is, currently changing it.

As always, Like, Stumble, Tweet, Digg, and otherwise share this information if you think someone else might find it of interest. Comment are always welcome!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Privacy

Internet PrivacyThis extradorinaily interesting case brings up a whole bevy of questions about the issues of privacy in the modern, computer age. In the United States there are fairly strong privacy laws but a great many people think they have far more privacy than really exists.

This is an incredibly complex issue and I may have to launch into a multipart examination! I know you can hardly wait. We’ll start it off tomorrow by trying to define what privacy really means, at least here in the U.S.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy from a Libertarian Point of View