Surveillance News - November, 2013

KY Healthcare Website May
Compromise Expectation of Privacy

 A recent article about the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s state-run healthcare website, “kynect,” states that the website cautions prospective customers that they “have no explicit or implicit expectation of privacy,” and their data “may be intercepted, monitored, recorded, copied, audited, inspected, and disclosed to authorized state government and law enforcement personnel, as well as authorized officials of other agencies, both domestic and foreign.” The disclaimer further states that the marketplace site is “a government computer system and is the property of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

 Prospective customers are instructed to have available their Social Security number and pay stubs, as well as information about any current health insurance, student loans, any alimony payments, and immigration status.  Gwenda Bond, a spokesperson for kynect, told the reporter that, “While the language sounds severe, it actually is a warning to those who might try to inappropriately use the website or any personal information contained within,” and that the system was working “to modify the language so the message is more clear.”  The clarified language would read, “This website is the property of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange. This is to notify you that you are only authorized to use this site, or any information accessed through this site, for its intended purpose of assisting individuals, employers or employees in the selection or purchase of health plans or other benefits.”  The new language would also include warnings about possible penalties for unauthorized access or disclosure of information.

Sources: Elizabeth Harrington, “Kentucky Marketplace: ‘WARNING: No Explicit or Implicit Expectation of Privacy,’”, October 4, 2013:

TSA Expands Background Searches

 An October 21, 2013, article in the New York Times reports that the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) has expanded passenger background-screening to encompass searches of government and private databases prior to the passenger arriving at the airport for domestic travel.  The expanded background-screening includes such things as vehicle registrations and employment data.

 The agency indicated that the program provides an “intelligence-driven, risk-based analysis” of passenger data.  However, critics complain that the potential for terrorist activity is not determined by human analysts, but is determined by secret computer algorithms.

 According to the article, data in the government databases may be shared with “federal, state and local authorities; foreign governments; law enforcement and intelligence agencies — and in some cases, private companies for purposes unrelated to security or travel,” with the TSA warning that information relating to “violations or potential violations” of security regulations may be shared with “a debt collection agency for the purpose of debt collection.”

 Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, was quoted as saying, “There’s no meaningful oversight, transparency or accountability.”

Sources: Susan Stellin, “Security Check Now Starts Long Before You Fly,”, October 21, 2013: Electronic Information Privacy Center:

Google to Track Purchasers

 According to a recent report, Google is beta-testing a program that utilizes a person’s smart-phone to track the person’s visits to brick-and-mortar stores.

 Using Android apps or Apple iOS apps, such as Google search, Gmail, Chrome, or Google Maps, where the user has consented to the “location services” function in the phone menu, the program determines if the person is in a store.   Google is further implementing a program to track the data across multiple devices, including tablets and desktops.

 The data is significant to advertisers, the article explains, because ads can be better targeted.  According to the article, consumers spend about fifteen hours each week researching products, and the majority of those will make a purchase within one hour after doing research.

Source: Richard Feloni, “Google Is Testing Program That Tracks You Everywhere You Go,”,

Stores Using Customer Wi-Fi to
Track Shopping Habits

 A recent article by Brian Fung explains that stores are using in-store equipment to ascertain through wi-fi a smart-phone’s 12-digit identification number, and then track the phone as the person is in the store.  Personally identifiable information about the user is not acquired.

Source: Brian Fung, “How stores use your phone’s WIFI to track your shopping habits,”, October 19, 2013:

Cell-Phone Monitoring in Seattle

 The City of Seattle recently installed dozens of electronic devices, mounted on utility poles in the city, to create a “mesh network for law enforcement officers.”  Days later, the public learned that the devices could collect data on any nearby internet-ready device, including cell-phones and laptops.   After initially denying that the system was operational, the Seattle Police, in response to a “public outcry,” it was reported, said the system would be deactivated until the city council approved a draft policy for use of the system.


by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor