With technology changing so quickly, government and law enforcement have their hands full trying to regulate and police the industry while still respecting the privacy rights of American citizens.  There are different legal situations popping up every day that had never been a consideration before.  Prior to 1999, no one had ever heard of cyberstalking, and more recently SOPA, the government’s attempt to stop online piracy, was defeated due to overwhelming criticism from the online community.  It almost seems at times as if policy gets made up as we go along to try to keep up with the lightning fast changes being made online and with technology on a near-daily basis.  And now there are two more ways the government will be using technology in the quest to maintain law and order.

First, let’s talk about your smartphone. Or more specifically, the GPS location technology on your smartphone. It’s recently been ruled that police can now use your smartphone’s location data to track you without a warrant. The same way you allow your phone to “Use Current Location” when you’re trying to find a movie theater or restaurant is the same way police can track you if they feel there is sufficient cause. The ruling was made in response to a 2006 marijuana case where the defendant argued that using his smartphone location data was in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which disallows a warrantless search.  The judge on the case argued that there was no constitutional difference between trailing a defendant in a car and using this technology to track them. The actual content of phone calls or any data transmission is still protected, but how long will it be before that becomes fair game, and how can we be guaranteed that information isn’t being used right now?

Next up: Facebook.  As I’ve said time and time again, once you’ve put something out there on the Internet, it is there forever.  And once you’ve shared that information with anyone else, it is no longer private, even if you’ve only shared it with one other person.  Another recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Williams Pauley III states that it is not a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights for one of your friends to share your Facebook profile information with police.  So unless all of your Facebook privacy settings for posts, photos, or anything else are set to ‘Only Me,’ you have no reasonable expectation of privacy on that (or any other) social media network. It wasn’t immediately clear whether one of your Facebook friends could be subpoenaed for that info, in this particular case the witness cooperated with police to allow access to the defendant’s profile information.  I suppose one of the lessons in this instance is to be careful who your friends are – in real life and online.

As technology advances, it becomes increasingly more difficult to make the distinction between public interest and personal privacy.  The most important thing to understand is that while efforts are being made to protect people, there just isn’t any way to ensure that your information is safe besides not putting it out there in the first place.  I’d love to hear your thoughts:  how much is too much government intervention in technology?

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