Buying Trouble

Racial profiling, algorithms, and the perils of shopping: “Could the items on your grocery list make the authorities see you as a potential terrorist?” Another argument not to use those frequent-shopper cards [to incentivize your opt-in to which the supermarket chains (and drugstores, and etc. etc.) are so eager to hand out discounts to to you], which have apparently been the source of this information about you.

The final destination of all that data scares Ponemon and other civil libertarians, defenders of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure. (Larry) Ponemon (CEO of the consulting firm Privacy Council and a former business ethics professor at Babson College and SUNY), for one, suggests federal authorities are plugging the information into algorithms, using the complex formulas to create a picture of general-population trends that can be contrasted with the lifestyles of known terrorists. If your habits match, expect further scrutiny at the least.

“I can’t reveal my source, but a federal agency involved in espionage actually did a rating system of almost every citizen in this country,” Ponemon claims. “It was based on all sorts of information—public sources, private sources. If people are not opted in”—meaning they haven’t chosen to participate—”one can generally assume that information was gathered through an illegal system.” Village Voice