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November 29, 2011

Technology and the Invasion of Privacy Snatchers – A SPN Exclusive Article

On February 5th, 1956, a science fiction movie titled “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was released in the US. The movie is about a small-town doctor who discovers that the population of his community is being systematically replaced by emotionless alien duplicates.

Fast forward to today, and life is imitating art, with a real life version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers being played out. But it’s not just happening in one small town. It’s happening in cities and towns all across America. Only it’s not bodies that are systematically being snatched, it’s our individual right to privacy.

Where’s Waldo?

“If you win this case, then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day, the public movement of every citizen of the United States.” Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

I just read a disturbing article on the BBC News website titled How Much Privacy Can Smartphone Owners Expect?

Among other things, the article discusses how The US Supreme Court could soon make a ruling allowing police to monitor the movements of US mobile phone users without a warrant – which legitimately begs the question, now that most of us carry sophisticated tracking devices in our pockets, how much privacy do we have a right to expect?

Because if authorities get their way, they won’t have to ask “Where’s Waldo?” They’ll know exactly where he is, because they’ll be monitoring his smartphone.

The Erosion Of Privacy In America

As American citizens, we have the constitutional right not to be subjected to unsanctioned invasion of privacy by individuals, government or corporations. And while those rights are supposed to be protected by the constitution, the truth of the matter is, the erosion of our privacy has been occurring for decades.

And it hasn’t been occurring in a vacuum either. The media has been reporting on invasion of privacy stories for as long as I can remember. In fact, I distinctly remember a huge media story from twenty years ago about a government agency that used thermal imaging devices to locate a marijuana growing operation in Oregon.

On January, 27, 1992, Oregon authorities arrested a man named Danny Lee Kyllo, who was tried and convicted of illegally growing marijuana. Authorities located the marijuana by placing thermal imaging devices outside of Kyllo’s home. However, in 2001 in Kyllo v. United States (533 U.S. 27), the conviction was overturned because it was decided that the use of thermal imaging devices that can reveal previously unknown information without a warrant does indeed constitute a violation of privacy. (Source: Wikipedia)

Warrantless Surveillance

After the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed the Patriot Act, which granted the President broad powers to fight a war against terrorism. The George W. Bush administration used these powers to bypass the FISA court and directed the NSA to spy directly on al Qaeda in a new NSA (National Security Agency) electronic surveillance program. Reports at the time indicate that an “apparently accidental” “glitch” resulted in the interception of communications that were purely domestic in nature. This action was challenged by a number of groups, including Congress, as unconstitutional. Disappointingly, the Obama Administration has continued using these controversial surveillance methods. (Source: Wikipedia)

The ACLU Speaks Out

In anticipation of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on the aforementioned United States vs Jones, GPS tracking case, Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in Washington, D.C., said the Supreme Court should uphold the Fourth Amendment and protect private lives against the invasion of government probing.

“The court should apply those values so that as technology becomes more and more powerful, those values can be preserved, not erased,” Spitzer said. “If the Fourth Amendment is to have any continuing meaning, we think the court needs to recognize that just because technology makes something possible, it doesn’t mean it should be allowed.”

Spitzer added that the case will have “strong implications” on whether or not the government needs a warrant to track people using their cell phones. (Source: Homeland Security Newswire)

I’d like to focus your attention on one sentence in particular in the above statement:

“If the Fourth Amendment is to have any continuing meaning, we think the court needs to recognize that just because technology makes something possible, it doesn’t mean it should be allowed.”

That one sentence makes the case for preserving the Fourth Amendment about as well as it can be made.

Where’s The Outrage?

But where’s the outrage over the continued erosion of our privacy? Where are the demonstrations in Washington and in front of the White House?

Since September, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has been taking its anger to the streets, with a grassroots movement and demonstrations worldwide, protesting corporate greed and the financial inequity that exists between Wall Street and Main Street. And there is evidence the movement is working. OWS recently forced Bank of America to nix its proposed $5 a month debit fee. Several other major banks quickly followed suit, announcing they too will nix planned debit fees and other exorbitant surcharges. Demonstrating once again, the squeaky wheel does indeed get the oil.

Unfortunately, there is no squeaky wheel – no organized protests for the blatant and relentless violation of our Fourth Amendment rights.

Sadly, with very few exceptions, when it comes to fighting for our individual rights and freedoms, we are as passive as a flock of sheep. And unless and until that changes, authorities will continue to think they can simply trample on our freedoms without any consequences. Because as things stand right now, they can.

The Power Of Technology

TV shows like Forensic Files and CSI demonstrate the tremendous power and potential of technology in law enforcement. I am absolutely fascinated by how scientists are able to solve crimes with DNA evidence, animal hairs and insect larvae. It’s nothing short of amazing!

Unfortunately, along with that tremendous power comes the potential for abuse. Because in addition to being able to legally solve crimes using technology, police can also illegally track the movements of innocent citizens, via the mobile phones we carry in our pockets and GPS devices in our vehicles.

And while technology has unquestionably made our lives easier, it has also made it easier for authorities to violate our right to privacy under the guise of “protect and serve,” and then attempt to use the courts to back them up in their unconstitutional actions.

The Potential For Abuse

Police departments that use such technology argue, devices such as GPS monitors and mobile phone tracking software are critical in today’s environment of high-tech criminals. They maintain using such technology is not a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights, and simply makes it easier to conduct surveillance, which has already been approved by the law.

To support their argument, they point to the fact, a court order is usually required before they are allowed to employ such measures.

But there’s a fatal flaw in their argument. Because the fact of the matter is, a court order is NOT required for all police departments across the country. That’s right, a court order is not required in every state of the union, in order to track and monitor our activities using mobile devices. And therein lies the problem, and the very real potential for abuse.


There’s a very bizarre twist to all of this. Every day, millions of us knowingly and willingly invade our own privacy rights on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others, sharing personal and often intimate details with the entire world. By participating on these sites, we are, in fact, already broadcasting our location to anyone who wants to both use and abuse such information.

Which begs the question: If we are already violating and snatching away our own privacy rights, how can we then turn around and protest against, with any modicum of credibility whatsoever, invasion of privacy?

It’s the epitome of irony, and quite the conundrum, don’t you think?

David Jackson is a marketing consultant, and the owner of – Powerful, free marketing tips to help grow your business!