Opinion | Using Smartphone Data to ID Members of the Capitol Mob

To the Editor:

Of the location data used to track those who stormed the Capitol, Alex Kingsbury, a member of the editorial board, writes in the Feb. 5 Opinion Today newsletter, “The availability of this data raises its own set of questions.”

Why? It would have been perfectly fine for a police officer to follow, and thus identify, one of the attackers. Why should it be problematic to do the same thing using cellphone data? The use of the data is quicker and more efficient than live surveillance, but it is no different in principle.

Americans’ obsession with privacy has gone off the rails. If I march, in broad daylight, with thousands of other people, from the Ellipse to the U.S. Capitol, how can such public behavior carry with it an expectation of privacy? We call it a “demonstration” precisely because we expect others to see it and be informed by it, we want the press to cover it, so how can it be understood as private?

The internet and social media certainly do present challenges — data can be misused by stalkers, sexual predators and political extremists. But the solution is not to lock up all the data; it is to clearly define and aggressively target the misuse.

David Berman
New York

To the Editor:

“Capitol Mob’s Phone Apps Betrayed Them,” by Charlie Warzel and Stuart A. Thompson (Opinion, Feb. 6), uses leaked location data to illustrate its power for surveillance and the need for controls on its distribution. Responsible members of the digital advertising industry are strong advocates for clear rules of the road for data collection and use.

The Network Advertising Initiative represents more than 100 digital advertising companies that believe in transparency and consumer control and adhere to best practices to provide privacy protections for consumer data collected and used for digital advertising purposes.

We renew our call for Congress to pass a comprehensive federal privacy law that clearly defines and makes illegal data practices that would harm consumers. We also support proposals to ban the nonconsensual sale of consumer data for law enforcement and foreign intelligence purposes. Those practices are unethical, pose a serious privacy threat to consumers and ultimately threaten the viability of data-driven advertising.

Leigh M. Freund
The writer is president and chief executive of the Network Advertising Initiative.

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