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Privacy and Technology: WTF Happened to Your Constitutional Rights?

Aug 08, 20114 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

At DefCon, Michael "theprez98" Schearer gave an interesting presentation called "WTF Happened to the Constitution?! The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age." He listed six "things that should p*ss you off."

An interesting presentation dealing with privacy and the Constitution was given at DefCon. In “WTF Happened to the Constitution?! The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age,” there were six reasons given as “things that should p*ss you off.”

In the abstract for the talk, Michael “theprez98” Schearer states, “There is no explicit right to privacy in the Constitution, but some aspects of privacy are protected by the first, Third, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.” It lists several ways in which we must deal with “technologically invasive searches” such as at airports or searches and seizures of laptops. Schearer added, “It becomes evident very quickly that searches and seizures are not so clear when it comes to bits and bytes…so where do we go from here?”

I’d like to share with you the six things Schearer said should tick you off.

1.  Administrative searches

2.  Administrative warrants and subpoenas

3.  Public surveillance

4.  School and students’ rights

5.  Legislators, judges and technology

6.  It’s your fault, too

For each reason, Schearer lists why it’s a problem and what we can do about it. For example, he suggests that we should demonstrate that administrative searches are “increasingly intrusive in light of current technology.” Since there is very little oversight on National Security Letters, a form of administrative warrants and subpoenas, we should continue to support efforts to publicize abuse.

Regarding surveillance cameras and GPS tracking, Schearer said the technology is “amassing data without suspicion” and we should continue to shout known and obvious abuses from the rooftops. He used the example of the Justice Department saying people have no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to warrantless GPS tracking. Depending on if the Supreme Court decides such tracking is Constitutional, may also let us know if we are “too far down the slippery slope” when it comes to surveillance.

Schearer said students are “often denied the same basic rights as other citizens.” He added that some concerns about “disrupting an education environment” are legitimate but that reasoning is often used “as a pretext to invade students’ civil rights.” One example he quoted was a creepy “calorie camera” in Texas that is being used to track how much students eat.

According to Schearer, we have way too many legislators and judges who are incompetent. They write poor laws and make poor decisions because they simply do not have the “aptitude for understanding technology.” Possible fixes to this problem could be a bunch of totally geeky folks who do grasp tech to run for public office, or just like there are Bankruptcy Courts, there could be specialty Technology Courts.

But also according to Schearer, the problem with privacy is “your fault, too.” We share too much information voluntarily like on social networks which then lowers society’s expectation of privacy and subjects us to more government intrusion. Schearer says we might be too far down the slippery slope on this one, but “just because we can share, doesn’t mean we have to.”

In conclusion, Schearer said, privacy isn’t dead yet but it is dying fast. “We can reclaim privacy by protecting our information and refusing to share so much voluntarily, and in turn increasing society’s expectation of privacy.” He added that we should “increase awareness by shining the light on governmental intrusions into privacy rights.” 

Check out theprez98’s slides on Scribd to see more of his talk, “WTF Happened to the Constitution?! The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age.”

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.