Cellphone Privacy Risks in America

“Privacy is central to every major issue of our time, from immigration and reproductive rights to criminal justice, national security and the environment.”

–  Time Magazine

It’s been two weeks since the dramatic culmination of the U.S. Presidential election, which has many privacy pros wondering what the future might look like for personal data protection in America.

There’s no telling how the new presidency will affect federal PII safeguards and cross-border data transfers, but with as much attention as cybersecurity received in this election cycle (a reported 18 million tweets about matters of digital privacy and security leading up to Election Day,) it seems that voters are finally beginning to understand the importance of protecting individual privacy rights and restricting government surveillance… but what they may not understand is how they’re unknowingly putting themselves at risk.

The real potential for individual privacy threats comes in the form of a less-obvious, less-legally regulated culprit: cellphones. People tend to feel comfortable providing their phone number in contact forms, social media, and online profiles, but there’s significant new evidence to suggest that we should be more guarded.

While it’s tempting to think that the next leader will fix America’s cybersecurity issues with the stroke of a pen, it’s ultimately up to U.S. citizens to take privacy matters into our own hands.

We should start by viewing phone numbers as 10-digit pins that double as direct links to private data that are stored and maintained by a wide range of companies (banks, social networks, hospitality, etc.)

With mobile phones quickly replacing landlines, cellphone numbers are increasingly tied to more individualized sensitive information, thus making people more vulnerable to identity theft and other privacy breaches.

As our private lives become more entangled with the mobile devices we keep, there’s a growing concern that government laws aren’t assimilating to protect privacy rights that are shifting in tandem with modern technology.

Some courts maintain that users can’t expect a reasonable right to their cellphone privacy – especially when it comes to location-based data, as this type of information is logged and stored by service providers – but cellphone content is a deeply private matter. A mobile device doesn’t just offer access to an individual’s location. It can give someone the ability to chronicle a person’s life through photos, social profiles, financial data, passwords, and more. The potential for abuse is alarming.

What America needs is a stronger set of regulations for protecting digital privacy rights that would rival the likes of GDPR.