Bringing Personal Privacy Into the Digital Age
Let’s face it. The world is going crazy… the last two years have been one scandal on the heels of the next.
Just going back to September 2012, right before Obama won his second term, we’ve seen:
- The Benghazi scandal.
- The IRS targeting individuals and groups because of their political beliefs.
- The NSA dragnet, data-gathering program brought to light.
- The healthcare.gov website debacle.
- A government shutdown.
- The VA-hospital outrage
- The bad Bergdhal trade
And now our southern border is coming apart like a government cover story.
With all this bad news, it’s important to take a moment to celebrate victories where we can get them.
And we saw one such victory just recently in the form of a Supreme Court ruling.
Transforming Privacy Laws
Digital rights are new territory. Technology has outpaced the laws. When that happens, it’s common for law enforcement agencies to push the envelop of what they can do. At least until there’s a law that expressly prevents them from doing it.
Case in point: If you are arrested, up until very recently, the police were allowed to search you and examine your possessions. They could look through your wallet. Rifle through your purse. As cell phones evolved into smart phones, they applied this same logic to those devices, and felt at liberty to explore the data on your smart phone, too.
But on Wednesday, June 25th, 2014, the Supreme Court changed that. They ruled unanimously that police officers cannot search your smart phone or any other mobile device without a warrant. Even if they are arresting you.
The reasoning behind the decision is heartening. Chief Justice John Roberts states that “because digital devices have transformed how people live, they must also transform the law on privacy.”
He went on to point out the role of smart phone for most people. It’s a mini-computer. It holds private photos, contact information, videos, calendars, tape recordings, books, newspapers and more. Someone accessing your smart phone could piece together a complete picture of your life.
Based on that, police can’t treat a smart phone police like the other contents of your pockets or purse.
Government attorneys argued that there is no real difference between searching a person’s pockets and searching their smart phone. The Supreme Court disagrees. In the Court’s decision, Roberts described that argument as akin to “saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon.”
Government attorneys also argued that not searching the phones right away made them vulnerable to remote wiping. Again, Roberts and the Court dismissed these arguments. They pointed out that police have multiple, practical options to protect the data on a phone until a warrant could be issued.
Judge Alito added additional statement to the Court’s report. In it, he urged state legislatures to take set privacy laws where technology is concerned.
This is a landmark decision, all the more worthy of being celebrated because it was unexpected.
This decision follows on the heels of another lessor court decision that law enforcement officers need a warrant to obtain location data about an individual based on cell-phone tower usage.
It also lays the groundwork to challenge the NSA’s continued collection of millions of phone records.
This court decision is a step in the right direction. And it’s refreshing, given all that our country is going through right now.
But don’t let this decision be an excuse to become complacent. This decision protects your phone from being searched without a warrant. Nothing more.
It does not protect you from NSA snooping or hacking by personal identity thieves. You have to do that yourself. I share some tips that can help you keep your private calls private here.
Continue to take care to protect your personal and financial information from being collected and abused by unsavory individuals.
How Obama Spies on Your Every Move…
Data breaches. Security flaws. Cyber attacks. Government overreach.
Your information is at risk. It seems like every day there’s another headline in the news about another threat to your privacy and online security.
So how do you keep your private information private?
How do you minimize the chance of your private life ending up in the hands of Big Business, and then passed on to the federal government or swiped by cyber criminals?