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Is Your Self-Monitoring Data Protected by Law?

By: Dave Asprey

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects you from unreasonable government searches and seizures. This protection extends to your computer and portable devices, but how does this work in the real world? What should you do if the police or other law enforcement officers show up at your door and want to search your computer?

EFF has designed this guide to help you understand your rights if officers try to search the data stored on your computer and portable electronic devices, or seize it for further examination somewhere else. Via Know Your Rights!

Being a futurist and a hacker (bio and other flavors), I was sad when I learned years ago that police believe they have the right to poke around in the black box recorder that most cars carry today. The government also believes it has the right to search your computer and mobile devices in various circumstances, provided you don’t use encryption, at which point they need to ask nicely to see your data.

What about your Quantified Self data? If you’re tracking your mood online with bStable should that data be accessible to law enforcement? What if your Zeo sleep monitor shows you forgot to wear your sleep monitor on the night something bad happened to someone you know? Maybe you used an app to collect your data from multiple devices and your BodyMedia FIT Armband shows your heart rate went up while your GPS phone shows you were in the area that a crime occurred? Should the police be allowed to add you to a list of suspects?

A more mundane, but more likely, scenario is your insurance company canceling your policy because they read your blog where you write about eating a stick of butter, 4,000 calories a day, and not sleeping. 🙂

Quantified Self is too new for these to matter for most people, and existing laws cover a ton of GPS information; however, the third party interpretation of the 4th Amendment states that if you give your data to a third party, it is not constitutionally protected.

Since just about every QS company is a third party, you lost some rights the first time you logged in. The traditional answer from cloud computing – and my day job – is to use encryption. I do – I encrypt my PC and really ought to encrypt my phone.

If we all encrypt our self monitoring data, we lose the most precious potential of the QS movement – the potential to share it. I don’t mean the potential to share your data on Facebook to increase your motivation to do something meaningless like eating less calories. I don’t mean the potential to thoroughly upgrade yourself (even though that is quite precious…) I mean the potential to share data so that it can be analyzed at a scale never seen before, which will unlock new levels of knowledge about how how our species is wired and how we operate. QS has the potential to help us know which things, and actually make a difference, so we can stop doing things that are supposed to work but don’t.

So screw murder. A much worse crime would be setting up laws that make people need to hide their bio-data. That’s why encryption and anonymization are on my mind, and why Quantified Self and the EFF should become good friends, fast.

If that fails, you can always try this. (Yes that’s me in the video. The woman in handcuffs is Playmate of the Year, Sara Underwood.)