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Monique Keiran: ‘They’ always know what you are doing

‘They don’t need to read my mind,” I informed Nature Boy when he offered me his tinfoil helmet. “They can read everything else.

‘They don’t need to read my mind,” I informed Nature Boy when he offered me his tinfoil helmet. “They can read everything else.”

What They would read are my emails, my Internet use, my cellphone data and every other item or card on or near my person with a radio-frequency identification tag, GPS or other signal.

Every time I use a credit card, turn my cellphone on, drive my GPS-enabled vehicle, send email, Google search … I leave a digital trail.

That trail can be tracked.

What I find amazing is that anyone could find li’l ol’ me interesting enough to want to screen the virtual banality of my existence.

When former National Security Agency contractor-turned-renegade Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s Internet spying program, the revelations threw light on who might be interested in the digital trails I and hundreds of millions of others create every day. Of course, Canadian wireless licences also include surveillance, but warrants are required here before any agency can track me.

Compared to that, the recent ruling by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to uphold B.C. employers’ rights to track worker whereabouts seems, well, small potatoes.

Employees at ThyssenKrupp Elevator Ltd. and Kone Inc. filed complaints over the companies’ use of GPS to monitor employees. The employees argued the tracking violates B.C.’s privacy legislation. ThyssenKrupp uses devices installed on its vehicles to monitor its mechanics. Kone issues GPS-enabled phones that record mechanics’ activity.

While it’s disconcerting to know your boss can log how much time you spend, for instance, in the loo, what ThyssenKrupp and Kone are doing is hardly new.

Employers have tracked onsite employees via pass keys, cameras, office email, computer networks and telephone systems for years, often without informing employees. Trucking companies began keeping tabs on their drivers with GPS in the early 1990s, and now use cameras, too. Commercial fishboats in Canada are required to carry devices and cameras that log location, course, crew and catches.

But even that is insignificant compared to all the personal information we leak into the data-sphere daily. Social media and phone calls to your sweetie are just the beginning. Now, you can get serious about documenting the minute details of your life online by using one of the new cellphone applications that automatically log all events significant and otherwise in your day-to-day life.

Your cellphone company, by the way, might be forced to share the information.

Or you can purchase — via trackable credit card — a high-tech biosensor that records changes in your blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, breathing rate and so on. The device geo-locates the data, then uploads them into your cloud account. Which may or may not be as securely encrypted as you thought it was.

You can even implant a radio-frequency tag under your skin, as is done to pets and some Alzheimer’s patients in parts of Europe and the U.S. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can settle for GPS-trackable shoes or watches designed to help caregivers keep tabs on dementia patients who tend to wander.

And it’s not just employers, governments, health-care facilities, dog owners and financial and communications companies that snoop. If, for instance, I load the Boyfriend Tracker application onto Nature Boy’s cellphone when he’s not looking, it’ll push all emails, texts and phone calls he makes and receives to my phone — all unbeknownst to him.

Which is just creepy.

And raises three questions: First, when does tracking become stalking? Second, from Nature Boy: “You’re tracking me with my phone?” Third: “If I wear the tinfoil hat, will that protect me from the Tracker app?”

Yet, despite all these ways we keep tabs on each other, we still can’t determine who, other than Michael Sona, was involved in last election’s robo-call affair, or who knew about Mike Duffy’s $90,000 deal before it become public.

It’s enough to make a person want to run off to the West Kootenay to live off grid and offline. At the very least, you could wear a tinfoil helmet there without drawing much attention.