The Cost of Surveillance

actual numbers

Graph showing the difference in hourly cost between various location tracking techniques.

The Yale Law Journal Online (YLJO) just published an article that I co-authored with Kevin Bankston (first workshopped at the Privacy Law Scholars Conference last year) entitled “Tiny Constables and the Cost of Surveillance: Making Cents Out of United States v. Jones.” In it, we discuss the drastic reduction in the cost of tracking an individual’s location and show how technology has greatly reduced the barriers to performing surveillance. We estimate the hourly cost of location tracking techniques used in landmark Supreme Court cases JonesKaro, and Knotts and use the opinions issued in those cases to propose an objective metric: if the cost of the surveillance using the new technique is an order of magnitude (ten times) less than the cost of the surveillance without using the new technique, then the new technique violates a reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, the graph above shows that tracking a suspect using a GPS device is 28 times cheaper than assigning officers to follow him. [Read more…]

Defcon: Can You Track Me Now? Government and Corporate Surveillance of Mobile Geo-Location Data

Defcon 20 Hacking Conference
Las Vegas, NV | July 26 – 29, 2012

In July 2012, I took part in a panel at the 20th annual Defcon Conference. I joined tech experts Christopher Soghoian from the Open Society Institute and Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, for a briefing on the current technological and legal landscape of location data tracking. The panelists explored how consumer location tracking efforts weave a story about the systemic privacy vulnerabilities of smart phones and the legal ways in which law enforcement has been able to hitch a ride. The panel was moderated by the Director of the ACLU’s Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, Ben Wizner.

View video archive

TechCrunch TV: Ashkan Soltani On Mobile App Security

TechCrunch TV | May 3, 2012

TechCrunch TV had me on to discuss Path, Apple’s collection of location information, and the various other privacy issues with mobile devices.


Ashkan Soltani On Mobile App Security by 5minTech

Why You Should Treat Your iPhone Like a Toddler: The State of Mobile App Security Techcrunch, May 3, 2012

NYU/Princeton Conference on Mobile and Location Privacy: A Technology and Policy Dialog

NYU Law School, New York, NY | April 13, 2013

People routinely carry smartphones and other devices capable of recording and transmitting immense quantities of personal information and tracking their every move. Privacy has suffered in this new environment, with new reports every week of vulnerabilities and unintended disclosures of private information. New York University’s Information Law Institute and Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy hosted a technology and policy dialogue about the new world of mobile and location privacy.  They brought together the policy and technology communities to discuss the substantial privacy issues arising from the growth of mobile and location technologies.

I gave a technical demonstration.

NYU/Princeton Conference on Mobile and Location Privacy — Technology Demonstration: Askhan Soltani from NYU Information Law Institute on Vimeo.

When Zombies Attack – a Tracking Love Story

OWASP AppSec USA 2011 Conference
Minneapolis, MN | September 20 – 23, 2011

In this talk,  Gerrit Padgham and I talked about the current state of online tracking and highlight current practices such as “cookie respawning” and non-cookie based tracking that popular websites and mobile applications engage in. We discussed theories on why the platforms we use do not adequately protect users from these threats and highlight the proposed solutions, such as additional transparency tools and Do-Not-Track that are intended to help mitigate these issues. We also demonstrated MobileScope, a technical solution we have been developing to give the end user ultimate visibility into the traffic their device is sending. Finally, we discussed open questions surrounding the ability to adequately assess risk drawing from behavioral economics and risk management theories for cues as to potential outcomes in this space.

When Zombies Attack: A Tracking Love Story with Ashkan Soltani & Gerrit Padgham from OWASP on Vimeo.

Additional video archives on YouTube.

PDF of slides