It seems the police are battling the courts for the right to continue warrantless surveillance of cellphones for the notes, call records, pictures, email and location data.  There is apparently no technical challenge – just a difference of opinion among lawyers. 

Cause-criminals continue stealing government and commercial secrets to create damage when the materials are publicly revealed – they style the crimes as merely freeing information.   Commercial firms track our moves on the Internet.

Since 2007, a mysterious Cyber-spy network that spans North America, Asia, and Europe has been collecting e-mails, passwords, keystrokes, screenshots, browsing history, contacts, call histories, calendars, and text messages from PCs and smartphones.  It looks like a state-sponsored operation, but the skillsets needed to create and operate this abomination will soon be dispersed for common cyber-criminals to use.

Today, ordinary Internet thieves ply their sordid trade stealing identities, releasing others’ private information, and draining others’ bank accounts.  Presumably their ranks will be joined by those who know how to run more sophisticated cyber “break and enter” tools.

Unlike in a physical-world home invasion or robbery, there is no handgun we can use to halt the crime immediately.  There is no police we can call to arrest the thief or vandal.   There is no affordable alarm that works well — in the cyber world antivirus software detects new viruses only 5% of the time.   

In Internet-connected devices, our possessions can be stolen or damaged and they will be unrecoverable.  Some possessions may be duplicated or strewn around the Internet but we’ll never be able to collect them to restore our own privacy or the privacy of those who entrusted us with their information.  The damage can entangle us in costly legal work and court appearances.  No one will reimburse us for the disruption to our life, and probably not for our lawyer’s fees.   No one will restore the time we will be forced to waste. 

In the unlikely case that the cyber-criminal is ever identified, apprehended and prosecuted, sentencing will be for no or minimal time.  Perpetrators who are European or American will probably get more in added welfare payments than we get in restitution.

Those who store sensitive material on laptops and smartphones are no more a contributor to crime than those who store personal jewelry in their home.  Today’s cyber-criminals wreak havoc on ordinary consumer’s lives.  Advanced tools currently in the hands of police and sovereign states will transfer to regular criminals.  When that happens, the Internet may become unusable unless law enforcement and courts have the clear mandate and authority to aggressively protect consumers from domestic and international cyber-criminals.  Congress probably has the time to help consumers with this non-partisan issue. 

Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Florida and following public policy issues from a consumer’s perspective.