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Locational privacy

Locational privacy (aka "location privacy") refers to the ability of an individual to move in public space with the reasonable expectation that their location will not be systematically and secretly recorded for future use.

We are rapidly moving into an era where an abundance of extremely convenient location-based services (implemented on mobile platforms like smartphones and in-car devices) pose grave threats to locational privacy. I'm very concerned about the possibility of this sort of "information infrastructure" inadvertently building a pervasive tracking system.

Neither the law nor people's intuition is keeping up with the pace of technological change; this is a classic example of where the transition from inexpensive (a policeman follows your car) to free (the police mine the location database) will cause a dramatic change in the possibilities for abuse.

It is technically feasible to build systems which balance legitimate information needs with privacy, using modern cryptography and careful system design. We need more work on developing practical versions of such systems, and legislative action to both mandate the use of such systems in government procurement and to uphold the principle that people own any information generated about their location.

With Peter Eckersley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), I wrote a whitepaper On locational privacy, and how to avoid losing it forever and more generally, the EFF has an excellent summary page on the issue.

Also in collaboration with the EFF, I worked on an amicus brief for the Jones case at the Supreme Court.

I also used to do a lot of interviews about this topic.