One of the U.S. government’s most important duties is to protect its people at all costs, right?
But, what if that cost is our privacy?
As technology becomes more ingrained in our daily lives, more and more of our personal data is collected and stored online – and with the companies that provide those services.
The question now is, can we consider that data our personal property and deserving of total protection?
It’s a hot debate that courts and advocacy agencies are constantly wrestling with.
However, a court in Florida just made a definitive decision about cellphone data. Unfortunately, I’m convinced that it may move the nation in the wrong direction.
Who Will Protect Us?
On May 5, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida closed the books on a Miami resident, Quartavious Davis – a first-time offender who was sentenced to 162 years in prison in 2012. He was initially convicted of possession of a firearm, robbery, and conspiracy.
Davis is clearly a threat to society. But, it was the way the prosecution went about making its case that is raising eyebrows.
Investigators obtained 67 days’ worth of Davis’ cellphone records… without a warrant.
In response to the search, MetroPCS, who provided the cellphone records to police, was accused of violating Davis’ Fourth Amendment rights.
This sparked an uproar worthy of a three-ring circus.
Many bigwigs weighed in, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. In 2013, they all filed an Amicus Brief together.
Given the grave concerns about Davis’ rights being violated, the case was appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Coming full circle, the federal appeals court declared that “the public has no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to their cellphone location records,” as per Forbes’ Kate Vinton.
Taking it a step farther, the ruling assures that no search warrant is needed in order for police to access cell tower location records when investigating criminal cases.
How can they do that?
The court’s defense is that it’s perfectly legal because the information “belongs to a third party.”
Now, I’m not here to argue if the man is guilty. I’m more concerned about what this ruling indicates for Americans in the future.
A Step Closer to Zero Privacy
Cellphone privacy has certainly been an ongoing concern for Americans. Just take a look at this segment from Fox News.
What’s truly frightening is that the vote to permit cellphone record access was passed by a landslide of nine to two.
Critics of the ruling point to the archaic logic behind the decision.
“As the (two) dissenting judges recognized, outdated legal doctrines from the analog age should not be mechanically extended to undermine our privacy rights in the voluminous digital records that come with modern life,” stated ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler.
Times are changing, and so much personal private information is attached to our electronic devices these days. This decision could open up the floodgates, providing a precedent for the reasoning to be applied to other personal technology.
Take Google (GOOGL), for instance. It collects tons of user information, such as credit card information, email addresses, and mailing addresses – all of which could be considered “third-party information” under this ruling.
What about Facebook (FB), Amazon.com (AMZN), YouTube, and the hundreds of other online forums we use every day? These companies hold a massive amount of data about their users. But, the question now is, who owns the data?
Ultimately, we shouldn’t be that surprised the ruling passed. After all, wasn’t it the United States that was spying on its own allies?
Frankly, it seems the Constitution just can’t compete with “Big Brother.”
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