It seems like the world has quietly slipped into a technological status that is post privacy. The 4th Am. protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures, but as that constitutional protection has been re-litigated over time, it turns out the definition of what is reasonable is contextual to current technology. As technology expands, the domain of a reasonable expectation of privacy shrinks. This shifting context is, intrinsically, neither good nor bad. It’s just a fact of technological advancement.
The Clintons recently discovered, much to their chagrin, that their reliance upon the privacy of their unsecured email server was a mistake. Despite their attempts to scrub their email record from the servers they owned, at some point their email traffic went through an internet tunnel that allowed their communications to be copied and saved by persons unknown.
As it turned out, those persons evidently became offended over the unethical Clinton’s documented behavior, and released those emails to the public in time for the American electorate to vote in a more fully informed manner. Subsequently the majority of Americans did the right thing and voted against the pair.
An argument certainly exists about whether this diminished expectation of privacy should hinge on the discretion of unknown parties who come to possess ostensibly private communications.
But extensive systems of encryption and decryption exist precisely because the internet is a known system of public communications channels. The information highway is open to all traffic. Someone listening at any number of junctures will be able to see and copy unencrypted traffic that flies by with very little effort.
Moreover, from the Snowdon disclosures the public now knows of numerous devices and software programs that monitor the internet and continuously capture all communications therein. And many formerly secure encryption methods still in use have been defeated.
All of this leads to a prudent conclusion that the great majority of internet users probably have no reasonable expectation of online privacy. The 4th Am. became somewhat obsolete.
Shifting gears slightly, it appears that the same prudential concern extends for smartphone users. And as smartphone sensors advance – some now do 3D digitizing of nearby physical surroundings – many of us will soon carry around data collection tools that can be remotely controlled to capture audio, video, GPS position, owner biometric and legal information, local 3D matrix data, friend and associate contacts and email addresses, histories of our communications through various social media and browsing tools, even records of our travels.
We line up to buy the latest and greatest of these devices because they do so much. And much if not all of what they do can be exploited on the internet without our awareness. The digital map of our entire existence is constantly built, refreshed, saved, and viewed. We are data origin points and we produce tons of data.
Taking things a step further, predictive artificial intelligence engines exist to use this data and issue alarms when the signals indicate the potential for alarming events to occur. Who reads these alarms, in what public agencies, what anticipatory machineries get switched on when the signs come in, these questions and others like them are probably worth exploring.