Thursday, February 09, 2017

Pacemaker under your skin?

Throughout my life, I have enjoyed pretty good health. At the moment, I’m actually nursing a head-cold – one of those “I want to blow my nose right off my face” things  – but I seldom have a sick day, don’t take any prescription meds, and – other than my 2015 droopy eyelid surgery  - have never gone under the knife. I count myself quite fortunate that my main medical complaints are mechanical ones. Right now, I’m dealing with posterior tibial tendonitis. No big deal.

Long-winded way of saying that, despite all the heart disease that courses through my mother’s family, I don’t have a pacemaker under my skin.

Lucky me.

Ohio’s Ross Compton is not quite so fortunate as I. At 59, he wears a pacemaker. And he may soon be wearing an orange jumpsuit, thanks to the data that his pacemaker registers.

According to officials, 59-year-old Ross Compton stands accused of burning his home down on September 15 and faces charges of aggravated arson and insurance fraud.

Police say they obtained a warrant to search all electronic information stored on Compton’s pacemaker when he gave statements that were not consistent with the evidence found at the fire.

He told authorities that “he packed belongings when he saw the fire, threw them out of a window and carried them to his car.”

According to court documents, a cardiologist who reviewed the data on the pacemaker determined “it is highly improbable Mr. Compton would have been able to collect, pack and remove the number of items from the house, exit his bedroom window and carry numerous large and heavy items to the front of his residence during the short period of time he has indicated due to his medical conditions.” (Source: ZeroHedge)

The pacemaker data isn’t all the goods that the authorities have on Compton. According to another article I saw, they also found gasoline on his clothing, and the fire – suspiciously – started in multiple places. Still, the info they got by looking into Compton’s heart of hearts is a critical piece of evidence.

Compton has pleaded not guilty, and his next day in court is later in the month. But this is a big deal on a couple of fronts.

One, the property damage is in the $400K range. Plus there’s the fact of putting firefighters at risk, which is always a big no-no. All round, arson is a pretty awful crime. And then there’s the privacy angle.

Electronic Frontier Foundation Criminal Defense Staff Attorney Stephanie Lacambra is concerned that technological advancements will lead to a loss of individual privacy, with this case setting a dangerous precedent.“Cases like this could be the canary in the coal mine concerning the larger privacy implications of using a person’s medical data,” she told SC Media.

There is nothing that I like me more than a canary in the coal mine analogy. Bring it on. (Chirp, chirp.) But pacemakers are just one example of how we’ll soon be up against the invasion of the data snatchers.

I may not have a pacemaker, but I do have a Fitbit. I actually don’t know whether it does continuous geo-location tracking, but, hey, there goes a perfectly good alibi if it does.

Then there are all the embedded medical devices that, like the pacemaker, are used to make adjustments to and/or monitor a patient’s condition. These devices can haul in an awful lot of data. Why not use it? I even read somewhere that, in the not so distance futures, newborns would get a miniaturized implant so that their pediatricians could keep a remote eye on them.

As Lacambra went to point out:

“Americans shouldn’t have to make a choice between health and privacy. We as a society value our rights to maintain privacy over personal and medical information, and compelling citizens to turn over protected health data to law enforcement erodes those rights.”

Are your medical records currently admissible as evidence? I honestly don’t know, but, if they are, what’s the difference whether the record is on paper, in the cloud, or embedded in your body?

It’s not just medical data, of course. Every time you swipe your card at CVS, every URL you access, every credit card purchase, every call you make, every automated toll you accrue, that data can – and will – be used against you in a court of law. Not to mention the equally hideous prospect that it will be used to market to you. Aaarrrggghhh…

Of course, for all the conveniences, benefits, and entertainment value of high technology, we’ve long since ceded a lot of our privacy to The Man. Or The It. Or whatever we want to call it. And if everything is electronic, why shouldn’t digital “stuff” be treated the same way paper “stuff” is? Is it just that there’s so much more digital “stuff”, and the whole thing just feels so much more invasive?

It is just plain creepy, that’s for sure.

While I don’t have any embeds on me, just stuff close to me like the Fitbit on my left wrist, there may well come a point where I’m wired up so that someone can tell whether I’ve taken the meds that I will no doubt be prescribed in the future, so that someone can tell if I’m eating my Wheaties (in real life: Cheerios or Shredded Wheat), so that someone can tell whether I’ve fallen and can’t get up. And I’ll no doubt be happy they’re doing so, if it keeps me independent and in my house. And I’m not planning on committing any crimes: no murder, no arson, no nothing.

But what if certain acts that we take for granted today become criminalized? Do I want any old evil power to come down on me because I follow RoguePOTUSStaff and Elizabeth Warren on Twitter?

Of course, we can come up with rules of law about canaries in coal mines, but if the government in place is rancid enough, why would they care about the rule of law?

And we, of course, are just setting ourselves up by putting so much of our lives out there in cyberspace.


Anyway, Sting sure was prescient way back in 1983 when he wrote:

Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take (I'll be watching you)
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay (I'll be watching you)
Every move you make, every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake (I'll be watching you)
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay (I'll be watching you)

And every damned heart beat, as Ross Compton found out. (Damn, it would have been so much more fun if this song had been written by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Can’t have everything, I guess.)



A note of thanks to my b-in-l Rick for sending this post idea my way.

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