The United States Postal Service is looking to get in on the big-data-for-profit game played by tech giants like Facebook and Google, and begin mining and selling private data gathered from personal mail sent from and received by Americans everywhere.
Nagisa Manabe the chief marketing and sales officer with the USPS, offered a preview of an array of initiatives that the agency is working on to improve and expand its services through the use of technology, tapping into unused infrastructure and by forging new partnerships. (The common denominator is MONEY, screw your privacy!)
The U.S. Postal Service has been storing images of every single piece of mail that is sent within the United States, recording who is sending letters and packages to who, and entering that information into a gigantic database that can be accessed by law enforcement agents, who can read through lists of who any American is corresponding with – all without a search warrant as required by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The program was put in place by George W. Bush, and Barack Obama has continued the program, despite Obama’s promise to end Bush’s attacks against Americans’ constitutional rights. They call it Mail Isolation Control and Tracking.
Appropriately, Manabe was speaking in future tense in a presentation here at PostalVision 2020, a conference focused on imagining how the Postal Service can reinvent itself in the face of dramatic shifts in consumer behavior.
At the moment, Manabe said that the agency is actively looking for ways to build new business lines around what not long ago might have been considered science fiction.
"We are not that far from the point where the refrigerator will simply be able to reorder for you," she said. "You will see us looking to collaborate with grocery chains across the country. We'd like to experiment with grocery delivery, so that's one of the areas where we're looking in earnest."
Similarly, the Postal Service sees enormous opportunities in the increasingly connected world to bolster its advertising offerings. Manabe is looking to tap what in tech circles has become known as big data - the accumulation of massive stores of individual data points that, when mined and analyzed, can yield valuable new insights.
Ask yourself when is enough, enough? Which alphabet soup agency isn't spying on Americans?
In the case of the Postal Service, it's looking to tap into datasets mapping consumer behavior that retailers could use to hone their marketing strategies. She described the scenario of a woman in the market for a new car, but on the fence about whether to go with the responsible sedan or the sporty coupe. She visits two dealerships and takes both cars for a test drive, but still can't make up her mind.
And there is the marketing opportunity.
"We're at the point where, all too soon ... we're going to know exactly that she was shopping at two different car dealers looking at cars, and both of those car dealers should be mailing her communication about that vehicle, right? And we're there now, folks. I mean, you all know this.
There are dozens of folks out there who are supplying that kind of information. If we're not testing and exploring some of that together, we should," Manabe said.
"As we know more and more about how consumers are traveling around and making their decisions, it behooves us to get involved and actually send them information to actually close the deal," she added. "For me, it's all about speed and accuracy of the mail."
Manabe described the agency's vision for "forward distribution centers," a plan to offer retailers access to unused areas within USPS distribution facilities, making it easier to deliver merchandise in short windows, not unlike Amazon's strategy of opening up new outbound hubs all around the country.
Taken one at a time, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, PRISM, FBI spy drones, and the NSA domestic telephone and Internet surveillance programs each constitute a serious threat to the democratic institutions of the United States of America. Taken together, they show a purposeful plan to replace a free and open society with a totalitarian surveillance state.
Your smart meter is spying on you in your home:
Utility companies across the U.S. are installing smart meters in customers’ homes, touting the technology’s energy-saving ways, but opponents argue that the meters are opening a Pandora’s box of privacy concerns.
The smart energy meters read electric or gas usage, and enable a power company to collect detailed usage data on a particular home or building. But the readings also gather personal information that some critics argue is too intrusive.
“It’s in the nature of technology to be neutral in the benefits and the risks; it’s how the info is used,” Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, tells FoxNews.com. “Look at smartphones. No one can argue the benefits of having one. But on the other hand, it’s the best tracking device.”
The Vermont ACLU has, in the past few years, participated in the privacy debate over smart energy meters. The group says that one major issue with data collected from the meters is the same with cellphone data. The agency has filed lawsuits against law enforcement agencies in the state over cellphone data being harvested through secret inquests and used to track an individual’s whereabouts.
The group has suggested a proposal to the state government so the same won’t happen with smart-meter data.
“We have put up quite a strong argument for user utility data,” Gilbert said. “This is why we presented a proposition in which we said that police departments should not get customer information from a utility.
“Instead, any subpoena should be issued directly to the customer.”
The U.S. Department of Energy has even admitted that privacy and data access is a concern as far back as 2010 in a report on the smart meter technology.
“Advances in Smart Grid technology could significantly increase the amount of potentially available information about personal energy consumption,” reads a statement from the report, titled “Data Access and Privacy Issues Related to Smart Grid Technologies.”
The report states, “Such information could reveal personal details about the lives of consumers, such as their daily schedules (including times when they are at or away from home or asleep), whether their homes are equipped with alarm systems, whether they own expensive electronic equipment such as plasma TVs, and whether they use certain types of medical equipment.”
The report recommended that states should consider a condition in which customers can authorize third parties access and that there should be a prohibition on disclosure of customer data to said third parties.
Los Angeles law enforcement is asking citizens to openly spy on one another:
The LAPD wants you, Joe Citizen, to help it out with its surveillance. It has enlisted the help of a crowdsourcing tool called LEEDIR to collect photos and recordings from everyday people who may have additional footage of natural disasters or civil unrest that could help out both emergency responders and cops looking to put a few more demonstrators in jail.
In today's announcement, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and the Boston Marathon bombings were mentioned as scenarios in which LEEDIR could help law enforcement respond to disasters or large-scale public security threats. One might also imagine large citizen protests like Occupy Wall Street being the focus of such crowdsourced surveillance.It's unarguable that the addition of crowdsourced photos and video helped authorities track down the Boston Bombing suspects, which shows that there is some value to this service. But, as is pointed out by Xeni Jardin, it could also be used to build a database of people enjoying First Amendment-protected activities. Currently, the site is soliciting input for any info related to last week's party-turned-riot in Isla Vista, CA, where over 100 arrests were made and 44 people injured, including five police officers. The notice clearly states the police are "seeking to identify several subjects wanted for violent felonies that occurred during the evening."
There are also other questions left unanswered about the handling of the data submitted.
According to today's announcement, agencies might typically retain uploaded content for a month or two, then delete it. But there's no requirement to delete it…And the way the system is accessed and used seems to lend itself to abuse.
It's up to law enforcement to provide analysts or investigators to sort through all of the content uploaded to LEEDIR and find potential evidence…An unfiltered influx of photos and videos curated by law enforcement officers. What could possibly go wrong? The tool may be aimed at natural disasters (which provides free access to police and emergency responders in the affected area), but paid subscriptions are available which would keep LEEDIR live at all times for any law enforcement agency willing to foot the bill.
Once the content is uploaded, it belongs to law enforcement, [Co-Global CEO Nick] Namikas said. It's up to each agency to decide how long they want to store the content in the cloud – a service being provided by Amazon.
As if the potential negatives of this sort of crowdsourcing weren't apparent enough, there's also the very large problem of who's behind this new system.
Under the leadership of disgraced former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, the department is said to have conceptualized the web service and smartphone app, which was built by Citizen Global with Amazon…http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140414/11391726904/los-angeles-law-enforcement-looking-to-crowdsource-surveillance.shtml
Baca's administration was plagued by corruption and scandal, and he resigned amid ongoing investigation into possible criminal activity. Certainly no such imperfect leader would misuse LEEDIR.
Sacramento Sheriff’s Department is using social media to spy on citizens:
CA - The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department announced that it is partnering with Nextdoor, a private social network for neighborhoods, to help create stronger and safer communities.
The common theme for our loss of privacy, creating safer neighborhoods, because your neighbor could be a terrorist! Why is the public still buying this B/S?
Through Nextdoor, the Sheriff’s Department will be able to communicate online with neighborhoods in the county. Residents and law enforcement officers will be able to work together to improve safety and strengthen neighborhood watch efforts, according to a department news release. Officials said more than 221 Sacramento County neighborhoods already have started Nextdoor websites.
Through the network, residents can join private neighborhood websites to share information, including public safety issues, local services and community events and activities. The Sheriff’s Department also will be able to post information such as safety tips and crime alerts to Nextdoor websites within the county.
Nextdoor is free for residents and the Sheriff’s Department. Each Sacramento County neighborhood has its own private Nextdoor neighborhood website, accessible only to residents who verify that they live in the neighborhood. Neighborhoods can establish and manage their own Nextdoor websites, and the Sheriff’s Department will not be able to access residents’ websites, contact information or content. Information shared on Nextdoor is protected by a password and cannot be accessed by search engines, officials said. (Does anyone believe the police can't access websites etc. or ask a judge to find out who sent a tip?)