Friday, September 08, 2006

Corporations, Governments, and People Spying On You

Given all the attention on the government's attempts to spy on citizens it is not surprising that corporate spying is overlooked. The Hewlett Packard spy scandal is causing the public's attention to shift a little in that direction. Washington Post article Most people rarely think about how much time and money corporations spend spying on customers. In fact, many people willingly open up their private lives to public scrutiny without giving it a second thought.

How many customer loyalty cards do you carry? Customer loyalty programs include grocery store, drug store, and office supply discount cards. How many branded credit cards do you use? These include credit cards issued by hotels, airlines, and many other firms where you spend your money. How often do you fill out detailed surveys just to enter a sweepstakes you stand little chance of winning? Do you complete and submit those warranty cards included with every new product? All of these techniques are really just tools corporations use to find out the most intimate details of your lives. Discount cards, credit cards, and surveys just scratch the surface of the behemoth of corporate espionage.

Data storage firms like Choicepoint gather mountains of data on individual citizens, all for eventual sale to corporations. Every time you use a credit card they store a record of exactly what you bought and where you bought it.

Insurance companies record every health, auto, and homeowner insurance claim. They also force state motor vehicle agencies and all hospitals to submit every record. Insurance firms share this data with every other insurance company as well as your employer.

Every time you visit most major Internet sites other companies like Revenue Science, Doubleclick, Atlas Marketing, and QuestionMarket run tools on your computer to allow them to follow every click you make. These tools, typically JavaScript scripts, have names like,,, and

Phone companies maintain a record of every number you dial. Internet Service Providers record every e-mail address where your send your e-mails. This data is bought and sold just like oil or groceries, only in special business marketplaces.

Auto manufacturers install black boxes on all new cars. These boxes record exactly how you drive your car. Every time you take your car to the car dealer they download this data into their computers. They sell this data to auto insurance firms.

Lately the U.S. Government has been forcing more and more corporations to surrender all this data in order to 'protect' citizens. They add this business data to all the information collected by the Social Security Administration, I.R.S., Department of Labor, Department of Defense, and Census Bureau. One result of this government spying is a blacklist of over 500,000 people they have arbitrarily decided are terrorists.

All of this activity is supposedly legal despite the 4th Amendment to the Bill of Rights prohibition on 'unreasonable searches and seizures.' The 4th Amendment reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Computer hackers often look like rank amateurs next to corporate spies like Choicepoint. The U.S. government, with the Bush Administration leading the charge, is trying to spy even more. However, computer hackers and other criminals all around the world regularly manage to steal all the data mentioned in this entire article. It all makes you wonder when this giant house of cards is going to come toppling down on the people that made it all possible in the first place, you and me.

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