By Clarice Pranger, Forum Editor
America has become fully engaged in a war on privacy. As technology continues to advance, the public is becoming more and more aware of the dangers of allowing access to the private information that makes up their lives, but as they become more aware, they conversely become more vulnerable.
Cell phones (particularly smartphones), online banking, and the ever-expanding number of social media websites provide new and ever more dangerous ways for someone to expose himself.
Now another danger to privacy presents itself in the form of the judicial system’s struggle with the grey areas of the law. According to Reuters, after being pulled over for expired tags, David Riley was held on suspicion of involvement with a non-fatal shooting incident in San Diego. He had no weapons in his car, there was nothing obvious or within plain sight of police that led to his arrest. Riley was held because police had searched his phone and found pictures of him posing in front of a car similar to the one in the shooting, and they had searched it without a warrant.
According to current state court precedent, police are permitted to search without a warrant primarily to ensure the suspect is unarmed and to secure evidence that might otherwise be destroyed, but searching a suspect’s cell phone without probable cause is not law enforcement. It is authoritarian abuse.
Cell phones have become more than just instruments that connect voices. They have become gateways to the virtual world, and as a consequence store highly sensitive personal data. If that personal data can be accessed by authority figures at will, the right to privacy is rendered null and void.
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center report, 91 percent of adult Americans own a cell phone, and more than half of those are smartphones that contain such sensitive and potentially incriminating personal information. How can someone protect himself if his personal information is subject to search without his consent or without probable cause?
In light of this inability of the justice system to keep up with the rapid pace of technology, the Supreme Court has since agreed to rule on whether cell phones are subject to unwarranted search, or if such search is a breach of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of the right to privacy.
Arguments have been set for April and a ruling is expected by the end of June, but any decision that allows for evidence gathered from cell phones searched without probable cause to be submitted in court would be an affront to the fundamental rights upon which America was built.
The pace of technology will not slow down, and as more innovative and exciting websites and gadgets are developed that emphasize convenience and are thus widely embraced, authorities must remember that this does not mean those who embrace it are simultaneously sacrificing their rights.
Especially now with the current hype surrounding the National Security Agency collecting and storing digital information on innocent people around the world, the government of, by and for the people must once again be shown by the people how to govern in the new parameters set by the future.
The young, up-and-coming generation, so often the harbinger of change and the first to embrace it, must not let the government slide into complacency. Those set up to inherit the world and its problems should not create another by allowing law enforcement to devolve into unchecked oppression. New technology does not equate to new weaknesses to exploit. Life is continually in flux, therefore laws must be.
Technology is meant to enhance life, not to detract from it.