The fourth amendment of the U.S constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizure. The famous Roy Olmstead case of 1928 used this amendment in its defense when Olmstead was charged with a crime using evidence collected from phone tapping. Although the Supreme Court denied the defense, it gave way to a heated privacy debate that continues today.
With time, telephones became commonplace and hundreds of citizens faced similar situations. The court eventually extended protection under the fourth amendment to make it compulsory for police to have a warrant for securing telephone communication as evidence, just as they would need a warrant if searching person’s home.
However, legislature has been unable to keep pace with emerging technologies, namely the arrival of the Internet and the advent of mobile. The government continues to demand consumer data from mobile and tech giants and its anyone’s guess if consumer privacy (and our fourth amendment right) is being infringed up. According to Economist, American Mobile phone carriers received 1.3 million requests from the government for user-data in the last year alone. America’s largest mobile service provider, Verizon, received requests for customer data at an alarmingly increasing rate of 15% over the past five years. Most mobile operators have a dedicated team just to process consumer data requests from government offices.
“We cannot allow privacy protections to be swept aside with the sweeping nature of these information requests, especially for innocent consumers,” said Rep. Ed Markey, who is co-chairman of Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus. He added, “we need to know how law enforcement differentiates between records of innocent people, and those that are subject of investigation, as well as how it handles, administers, and disposes of this information.”
Privacy concerns are not just for the mobile users; Internet users face similar concerns. A Times poll found out that 82% of Californians were unhappy about privacy breaches by major tech companies. On a scale from zero to ten (with zero meaning no trust and ten meaning complete trust), Apple scored highest with 4.6, while Google managed to score only 3.8. YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn were all below Apple and Google. No one scored over 5!
In 2011 alone, Google received more than 12,000 requests from the American government for access to consumer data. Google responded to most of requests by providing requested data.
While the legislative pillar of the American government has failed to catch up with ever-changing technologies, privacy is still a priority and it’s not going away. What do I mean? I think Rep. Ed Markey puts it best: “People drove automobiles before there were seat belts or air bags … but as time progresses, in the same way you can have both automobiles and safety, you can have the Internet and privacy — and I think that day is arriving.”