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Why is Your Smartphone Still Watching You?

Have you looked something up on Google from your phone and it seems to have read your mind?  As you begin to type in the words, the search finishes it for you. Or maybe you call on Alexa and she immediately presents the answer to a question you didn’t finish asking?  But we are all probably used to that now by now. Countless stories in the news have alerted us too many times about TV’s, smartphones and other smart devices being smarter than they should be.  But why is it still happening? Where’s Congress been on this audacious violation of privacy?

In September 2019 the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act was introduced.  But that’s it. It hasn’t moved since then. The Congressional legislative initiatives have dwindled, passing only 70 + laws in the House for the entire year of 2019.  Wondering why? Let’s try to answer that.  

Congress has been preoccupied with impeaching a president.  They have repeatedly passed resolutions on President Trump’s actions or inactions.  The latest was scaling back his war powers which is a moot action since only Congress can declare war.  Presidents have sent troops into war zones, conflicts and occupational operations for over two centuries.  Why is it so important now? We have been in an “unwar” in the Middle East for 19 years straight. This action is called political pandering to the people.  Don’t get it wrong, this is not a diatribe on Red or Blue support, it’s just calling it what it is. 

Congress doesn’t work much. According to Ballotpedia, Congress works nearly half to three-fourths of the average worker.  From 2001 to 2019 they averaged 165 working days per year compared to 260 per year for voters. The 116th Congress is scheduled to work only 130 days in 2020 due to the presidential election cycle.  Congress was dubbed the Tuesday-Thursday Club a generation ago and have blithely continued the tradition.  It’s a good job but somebody’s got to actually do it. 

Of course, Big Money has to come into play.  Tech companies donated $582 million to legislators from 2005 to 2018. According to OpenSecrets, there seems to be an even split for Red or Blue contributions so don’t fool yourselves.  Regardless of party, legislators are raking in the money from companies that aren’t serving our best interests let alone our privacy. 

These three elements and a slew more are the obstacles to our fundamental right to privacy.  We have heard of people who are turning off Alexa when it’s not in use. Sure, that could help but what about Facebook.  They spent millions of dollars to have our private conversations transcribed.  Tech devices are deemed generational-meaning each generation uses one device or social media outlet more than the other.   What we aren’t discussing is that each of us, regardless of age, has a right to privacy.  

There are many ways we can protect ourselves from the Siri’s of the world from buying a flip phone to using a “dumb” TV controller.  But why should we have to do this when we have rights that are violated? If we want to be heard we need to call on our legislators to pass The Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act.  They need to go one step beyond and revamp this law to make it illegal to record, watch or view any consumer’s actions or conversations. Currently, smart devices have an opt-in that gives companies permission to record us through sheer use of the device.  The law needs to include that purchase doesn’t mean permission. If our laws aren’t updated to cover our needs, silence should be golden at the polls.

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