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US companies are sellling your personal data – to the government!

U.S. spies and cops are vacuuming up huge amounts of data about Americans from data brokers — a trend that puts us on a dangerous path already trodden out by authoritarian regimes such as China.
In America, we curtail government powers and guarantee civil liberties by limiting the amount of information citizens provide to the state.
Police need a warrant to strap a GPS device on your car or listen to your telephone calls.
Intelligence agencies and military units are banned from targeting Americans for surveillance and are supposed to focus their attention overseas.
4 President Biden has banned countries like China from obtaining data on US nationals. AP
America is built on the notion that too much power and information in the hands of the state is a danger.
We want police to solve murders and national security agencies to keep us safe but we don’t want that power to be all-encompassing or panoptic.
We recognize that human beings are flawed and power is corrupting and so we have checks and balances, independent courts and sharp limits on government reach.
That’s the basic social contract of the United States — a delicate balancing of public safety and individual liberty.
But today, that social contract is changing before our very eyes thanks to the volume of data collected and sold by American corporations.
Today, police don’t need a warrant to track the movements of Americans through their cell phones or their cars.
Intelligence agencies can access U.S. internet browsing data without having to actually hack into anything.
And governments can listen in on the conversations that billions of people are having on social media.
They just buy it from the shadowy industry of data brokers that have sprung up to collect information on everyone and everything.
4 Sen. Rand Paul is leading a bipartisan effort to pass a bill that would make it illegal for the government to buy your personal data. ZUMAPRESS.com
The apps you put on your phone collect reams of behavioral information about you.
The websites you visit track your movements and the search queries that brought you there.
Those little banner display ads that are in every app and website collect everything they can about you and your device.
They then feed the information they gather into a mind-numbing, complex system where tens of thousands of advertisers have access to details about you.
Social media sites are filled with fake accounts — planted there by data brokers so they can extract and resell information about what people are saying online.
The market for all this data is in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
These data brokers that have contracts with the government range from giants like LexisNexis or Thomson Reuters to obscure vendors with names like Babel Street or Safegraph.
4 The law is being led by Sen. Roy Wyden (pictured) in partnership with Sen. Paul. AP
Many of these companies claim the data they’re selling is “anonymized” — or contain no identifiable information like names, phone numbers or email addresses.
But you can’t anonymize a data set like geolocation.
You’re probably the only person who wakes up every morning at your home and goes to your office.
Your patterns and habits give you away.
Think this is an overblown concern?
I once convinced a data broker to give me data on the movement patterns of U.S. soldiers serving in Syria.
I could soon see where they deployed, how they got there and where they went back to after their tour was over.
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All of this poses significant privacy and civil liberties threats to Americans at home.
The Biden administration knows this — that’s why last month it banned countries of concern like China and Russia from obtaining data on Americans.
But what they have resisted is limiting the power of government bodies in the United States from obtaining this data.
Everyone from top tier intelligence agencies to local police forces are now getting reams of information about U.S. citizens.
And because they’re buying it just like any other customer, this is all deemed legal.
4 The unregulated digital data industry is worth billions of dollars, according to reports. Getty Images
There’s a bipartisan proposal in Congress drafted by Democrat Ron Wyden (D, Ore.) and Republican Rand Paul (R, Ky.). It would stop government agencies — federal, state or local — from buying data on Americans.
The Biden administration opposes it.
America is not China.
China is a one-party authoritarian state that has tapped technology for the purposes of social control.
In regions like Xinjiang, surveillance is deployed against an oppressed minority that Beijing wants to stamp out.
America is a functioning democracy.
We have rule-of-law.
We have independent courts.
But the amount of data sloshing around for sale is leaving the nation’s sacred social bargain dangerously out of whack.
Byron Tau is the author of “Means of Control: How the Hidden Alliance of Tech and Government Is Creating a New American Surveillance State,” released on February 27th.

web-intern@dakdan.com

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