Aside from allowing you to interact with acquaintances and content from around the world, large digital sites are a great way for police forces to gather information. According to a report released by AFP, more and more websites and products created by large technology companies have been used as a source of information by law enforcement agencies in the United States.
Demands for access to personal data of digital site users have tripled since 2015, according to a survey conducted by Vehicle. Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft together approached 117,934 requests, which were granted in 85% of cases.
In addition to accessing additional data, police forces are also more efficient at using it to cover up their operations. One of the reasons for the increase in access demands is that more and more crimes can be directly linked to online activities.
“Everything is happening on Facebook,” said Lieutenant Robert Salter, a detective who oversees Newport police. Located on the US state of Rhode Island, this small town has less than 100 police officers, but will become a bustling tourist destination for more than 24,000 access requests during the holidays.
The golden age of observation
According to Cindy Conn, executive director of the Electronic Border Trust, U.S. law enforcement officials are living in a “golden age of surveillance.” Not only do they have easy access to the databases of large technology companies, but they also receive court orders preventing agents from being warned about sharing their data – so that a person can be investigated only a few months or years after the event.
Cohn says the situation requires reviewing U.S. laws as the digital world brings less protection to privacy. In addition to accessing a person’s basic information and metadata (which informs their actions), U.S. law enforcement agencies may also ask technology companies to retain all of an individual’s data without the need for a court order.
According to the cyber security associate Armin Thaddeus of the consulting firm Brunswick Group, a person can then use the data stored during the investigation without knowing about it. Cohn argues that the country’s legal system is based on the assumption that if information is important, it can be kept to an individual and accessible only by court order – something that will completely change the image in the digital world, and that information is not physically stored.
Due to the large increase in demands, it is common for large technology companies to create departments dedicated only to responding to them and filtering legally valid ones. According to AFP, content providers popular among young people have seen the biggest growth in the number of requests: Snapshot’s Snap responded to 762 requests in 2015, up from more than 17,000 in 2020 alone.
While Lt. Solder defends the notion that not committing crimes on the Internet is enough to not have to worry about the situation, Cone of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says the situation is more complicated. According to her, technology companies need to engage in data encryption to prevent police forces from creating “short circuits” in constitutional protections and unrestricted access to the public’s personal information.
Source: AP News
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