A Week of Location Data May Be an “Unreasonable Search”

By | May 31, 2014
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Quantifying Privacy: A Week of Location Data May Be an “Unreasonable Search”

When does the simple digital tracking of your location and movements — the GPS bleeps from most of our smartphones — start to be truly revealing? When do the data points and inferences that can be drawn from it strongly suggest, say, trips to a psychiatrist, a mosque, an abortion clinic, a strip club or an AIDS treatment center?

The answer, according to a new research paper, is about a week, when the data portrait of a person becomes sufficiently detailed to qualify as an “unreasonable search” and a potential violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.

The research paper, a collaboration of computer scientists and lawyers, wades into the debate over the legal and policing implications of modern data collection and analysis technology. It explores what in legal circles is called the “mosaic theory” of the Fourth Amendment, which essentially states that when linked and analyzed by software, a much richer picture emerges from combined information than from discrete data points.

“It’s not the direct observation,” said Steven M. Bellovin, one of the paper’s co-authors and a computer science professor at Columbia University, a computer security and privacy expert and a former chief technologist of the Federal Trade Commission. “It’s what can be inferred.”


One thought on “A Week of Location Data May Be an “Unreasonable Search”

  1. Gleneco

    We must learn to be deceptive and give false information about our doings and coming and goings. We must become mysterious and interesting once more.


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