And, for all those who still harbor any dreams of going to some sort of happy Shangri-la of online privacy, let’s make something very clear: that will not happen.
The reason is not politics. It is economics: online espionage is incredibly cheap.
According to this article, published by independent online security expert Ashkan Soltani and the Policy Director of the Open Technology Institute of The New America Foundation Kevin Bankston, “the average cost of cell phone tracking across the three major providers is about $1.80 per hour for twenty-eight days of tracking. Using beeper technology for the same period of time is nearly sixty times more expensive, while covert car pursuit is over 150 times more expensive.”
Spying has been traditionally costly. Drew E. Cohen, a former law clerk to the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, has estimated that, in the 1800s, ten constables were required to follow one suspect in a major American urban center; by the 1940s “the same task still took eight officers in four police cars to accomplish.”
Nowadays, that can be achieved virtually for free just by monitoring a person’s activity through their cellphone. As Cohen explains in a phone interview, “when the [U.S.] Constitution was written, there was a huge economic cost [in spying], so certain technologies were prohibited, not just from a legal standpoint, but also from the financial side.”
It is clear that this is no longer the case. So, let’s admit the hard truth: online espionage is easy and it is amazingly cheap.