Here I am, someone who works everyday on civil liberties issues, including privacy, and finding out the scope of information I'm unwittingly giving away on a daily basis staggered me  last night at a presentation by ACLU's Chris Calabrese in Great Falls.

Every tweet includes four or five times more information about my computer, my location and other details than the 140 characters of my intended message.

Then there are all the websites who leave cookies on my computer, tracking my every surfing move to compile a profile of me with which to target me with advertisements, offers and who knows what.

Oh, and the scariest thing: my phone.

"In addition to being communication devices, they are portable tracking devices," Calabrese said.


Calabrese knows what he's talking about. He's the ACLU's National Legislative Counsel for Privacy Issues. As such, he works in Washington, D.C. in the halls of Congress and the White House to try to protect you and me when we are online, on our phones and simply going about our daily business.

You can find out more from 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, April 28 at MSU-Great Falls at our workshop, Privacy in the Digital Age: Is the Fourth Amendment Relevant in Our Technological World?

Wonder how and why sites like Facebook, Google and YouTube offer their services to you and me at absolutely no charge?

"If you're not paying, you're the product being sold," Calabrese said.

These sites offer advertisers information about us which they can use to offer us products we're more likely to buy.
Calabrese advocates a "Do not track" option, which would allow people surfing the web to tell companies not to follow their activities online.

How about database compilers selling lists of "suffering seniors" with cancer and dementia, or Target knowing based upon purchases of other pregnant women that a teenage girl was pregnant before her family even knew. An angry father confronted the store about ads sent to his daughter filled with baby products. Turns out, based on her purchases of lotion and other items, Target was right on target.

And then there are also the government's efforts to track us.

It's not too late, though, says Calabrese. We just have to work to make our laws catch up with technology.

It took 50 years after the invention and use of the telephone for the Supreme Court to rule that wiretapping requires a warrant, but it did happen.

Let's work together to make sure it doesn't take that long to enact new laws to protect our privacy in our digital age.

"We haven't turned the corner, but we are making progress," Calabrese says. "The principles embedded in the Fourth Amendment are the bedrock of this country."