How the US Legal System Thinks of Privacy April 13, 2012Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
My title is overly broad; it’s really just one judge’s opinion, but it is by and large a thoughtful and well-reasoned view of how our legal system might view the changing norms on privacy. Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, gave this talk at Stanford Law recently, and it was subsequently published in the law review.
I thought his key point was that the law might afford us the same expectations on privacy that society has in general, although not that which individuals might expect in their own unique circumstances. In other words, if it seems acceptable to society to increasingly regard phone calls as not private, then we as individuals should not expect that our calls are afforded legal privacy.
I do have a couple of nits to pick with him. In his opening paragraph, he states that technology is dangerous in that it can take some time for our own attitudes to catch up to it. I wouldn’t call that dangerous, but I would say that we need to learn to think through our individual uses of technology. I decline to participate in certain aspects of our digital society precisely because I gave them some thought ahead of time.
Also, he goes on to note that if you commit a crime and leave your cell phone at home so that your location can’t give you away, then prosecutors would likely consider that evidence of premeditation. I would go one step further, and argue that we may be approaching the time where leaving your cell phone at home may well be evidence that you plan to commit a crime. That’s a sobering thought.
But overall I thought it an excellent assessment of technology and privacy. If the topic interests you at all, it is a must-read.
UPDATE: There’s an interesting article from msnbc.com on police department use of cell phone tracking services. Apparently it is a very big business for the cell carriers, and a cost for police and taxpayers.