Supreme Court Will Decide The Fate Of Your Digital Privacy

from Axios

The future of digital privacy is up for grabs today at the Supreme Court, as the justices hear arguments in a landmark case about whether police can track the location of a cell phone without a warrant.

Why it matters: The tech industry’s most powerful companies argue that if police can access this information without a warrant, hardly anything will ever be private again. The justices clearly share some of those concerns — but their personal understanding of modern technology is on a collision course with the court’s past rulings. 

The big picture: The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that you don’t have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” for data you voluntarily turn over to a third party.

  • In the ’70s, it said police could use a pen register — a device that records all numbers called from a particular telephone line — to log the numbers a suspect dialed from his landline phone, because he knew he was routing those calls through the phone company. A similar case allowed warrantless searches of bank records.
  • But here in 2017, almost everything we do involves transmitting data to a third party. As the ACLU put it in a brief to the high court, every day, millions of Americans disclose “their search queries to Google, their GPS coordinates and location history to Apple, Google, and Waze, their intimate photos to Apple or Flickr, and their medical queries to WebMD.”

More here.

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4 Responses to Supreme Court Will Decide The Fate Of Your Digital Privacy

  1. Meghan Healy December 7, 2017 at 9:23 pm #

    Privacy is a main concern in the case of whether or not police can track a cell phone without a warrant. The article states that, “the tech industry’s most powerful companies argue that if police can access this information without a warrant, hardly anything will ever be private again.” However, with the increasing presence of social media, we gave up our privacy when we first start posting to these platforms as early as elementary school. This breach of privacy should almost come as no surprise. Nowadays, privacy is slowing diminishing with the increasing prevalence of technology and social media. Twitter is a platform for people to give their followers updates on their daily activities. Someone that tweets about the exact location in which they are currently eating a burger should not be surprised that hardly anything will ever be private again. The factor that is suddenly causing people to be concerned with the things they do on their cell phone is the involvement of the police.
    This article describes a case in which a man named Timothy Carpenter was convicted of participating in robberies. Data from his cell phone providers showed that his phone pinged cell towers near sites of the robberies when they occurred. The ACLU said that the seizure of those cell phone records violated Carpenter’s Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.
    Even though social media and other related technology is relatively new, police have been searching our phones to find evidence since the 1970s. In the 70s, police used a device called a pen register that could record all numbers called from a specific telephone line. This device was used to log the phone numbers that a suspect had called. A history of someone’s calls was not private information exclusively held by the user, since these calls are recorded by the phone company. Similarly, in 2017, what a user does on their phone can be recorded and accessed by the phone company. As the article states, “Users don’t own their cell-tower records; cell-phone companies do. And everyone who uses a cell phone knows about cell towers. So, cell-tower location records are a clean example of data turned over to a third party, and therefore aren’t entitled to any expectation of privacy.” What we do on our phones is not private information. Anyone with the capabilities to hack into a database can access the information record by cell towers. Nowadays, anyone can access another’s information, not just the police.
    Our smartphones record what we do, such as watch a video, read a news story, or text or call a friend. These records are then sent to third party sites. This is how ads are created to target the user. As the article states, there is nothing that certain companies, especially our cell phone carriers do not know about us.
    In a hypothetical situation, if someone posts on a social media account something that would lead another person to believe that the person was involved in a crime, would the police need a warrant to search the suspect’s phone for evidence? If the post is public knowledge, is a warrant necessary? In 2014, the court ruled that police need a warrant to physically search someone’s cell phone. Our phones store a lot of information. If certain information is incriminating, then the police should be able to access it.

  2. Rebecca Hu December 8, 2017 at 2:40 pm #

    Privacy is now becoming a major concern since literally everything are connected together with the internet. Nothing is really kept private and safe once it is connected to the internet. The involvement of technology totally changed the lifestyle we live. Everything we searched and looked through there will be a copy of that information stored somewhere in the world. We never really realize what these information reveal until recent cases.
    With the development of social media and the way, we interact, with other people and society. To a certain extent, we have already given up some degree of privacy. The social media posts we made available to the public may be a good tool for marketing or sharing information to friends but these are available to everyone in the world. We reveal a lot about ourselves to the public without knowing the consequences of revealing this information.
    Just as recently discussed the controversial issue regarding workplace privacy. These data information can help our justice department to collect necessary information as evidence. How can a collection of personal data be justified and used? The government may have to monitor the public in the name of homeland security. What is really the difference between democracy and communism if both of the systems choose to closely monitor every citizen closely?
    Smartphone and computer device reveals a lot about a person. It reveals the way how the individual approach to different things as well as personal information. If the justice department can search through personal information without a justifiable reason for a warrant. Then it is the same as saying that they can search for anything if they wish. Should we choose justice at all cost?
    This reminds of the case between Apple and FBI, where FBI require Apple to create a system for FBI to get through the IOS system for investigation purposes. Who can regulate how the government will use the system or information? The general public never really know what the government is doing unless they are revealed to the world. The government can say something and do something else. We have given the power of decision to these officials through the election.
    Technology and privacy combination is really a gray area. We are all new to these aspects of technology because we are just testing out the limitations of technology. Twenty years ago, not everyone owns computers or small mobile devices. Internet was not fast, it did not connect everyone around the world in seconds. It is hard to decide what is right or wrong regarding technology and privacy because we are still testing them as well. We may never keep up with the speed of technology innovation because everyday improvements are made.

  3. Valerie Dorsett December 8, 2017 at 4:51 pm #

    Everyone enjoys having their own time of privacy, whether it is in the real world or online. In the real world anyone could just go home and relax knowing that they are alone and no one can bother them. However, online anyone could be watching what you do at any time. This has become a big issue that we have to deal with today. Even though someone may have their profile as private that does not mean that people cannot search you and find what you have been posting. This raises many question about online privacy. Some say that since you post on social media you have given up a percentage of your privacy. However, now the Supreme Court will finally weigh in on the situation.
    The Supreme Court stated that you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for the data that you allow any third party user to access. In the year 2017 regulating the privacy services for the digital age has gotten difficult. Almost every website that we use forces people to accept third party access in order to use their website. The article adds that the, “ACLU put it in a brief to the high court, every day, millions of Americans disclose ‘their search queries to Google, their GPS coordinates and location history to Apple, Google, and Waze, their intimate photos to Apple or Flickr, and their medical queries to WebMD,”’ which allows many of these applications to track what people are searching at any time. This has just become to norm in society because as of now, there is no other way to get around the system.
    What I found out that was interesting is that the Supreme Court decided that Cell-tower records are very similar to bank records and pen registers from the ’70s. This is able to occur because people do not own the cell phone towers, the cell phone companies do, which is why they are able to access these records without having a record. This is another type of third party because it collects data from individuals smart devices as long as they are connected to a cell phone company. Since these situations have arose many digital companies are speaking up on the subject. Google, Microsoft, Apple, and many more are not defying the government adding their incentive saying that the courts precedents should not govern modern technology. It seems more upsetting to people that their data could be opened up by the government at any time without a warrant.
    Everyone wants to find a solution to this issue that will not just go away overnight. No matter if you are conservative or liberal, both parties show some concern about these digital privacy regulations. One of the Supreme court justices said that, “the court should reevaluate its so-called third-party doctrine, because it’s ‘ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks,”’ which is completely true. Just to sign up for a silly website you may have to agree to give away more of your private information than you would have originally wanted to in the beginning. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will realize that all of these third-party applications take too much personal information for people and decide to do something about it to protect many citizens. Posting a photo online is one thing, but allowing a website to track your location and personal information is another, which is too far in my opinion.

  4. Vincent Scorese December 8, 2017 at 6:19 pm #

    This is a very important case in the history of the united states because of how the ever-growing technology grown in the country this affects not only us now but for the rest of our futures. The fact that the law and the technology advancement do not add up is why the law needs to be look at and in some case, be revised to better clarify the law and what is illegal or legal. The fact that almost everything we do in this day and age is sent to a third-party company makes it so that the law from the 1970s is kind of outdated concerning the fact that back then not very much was sent to third parties because the internet or stuff around it didn’t even exist at the time. It puts us at very much invasion risk as far as privacy is concerned because in the law anything sent to a third parity isn’t considered private by the law. This would give police access to this information and to have that ability without a warrant is not very good for most people. To obtain a warrant to look at something or obtain information, it has to show probable cause and to be just, without the need for a warrant a police officer or others for that matter can access your location at any given time for any given reason and that’s not the American way quite frankly. We have our great leaders die for freedom and say things in regards to “Give me liberty or give me death.” We still have to maintain our liberties and rights to our own freedoms and liberties away from our government because that is embedded in our American code. If I wanted to go pick up and leave to Florida for a week or go out camping for a week in Pennsylvania, that is not the governments business and it should not be permitted to access this time of sensitive information without a warrant. Also, if the information is very accessible that means that mainly anyone can grab at it and that also leaves people more vulnerable to things involving criminals knowing where you are as well and doing the wrong things with that information. Also, as we saw with Equifax, if the governing services harboring this sensitive information gets breached, they could take the information and now use it for their own purposes. Some things are better left unknown and certain liberties like freedom to operate without the government just spying on everything you do is one of them. At least it needs to be accessed with a warrant to show its going after people with a just cause and offers some protection for those people.

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