Technology and Business Law Blog

Technology and the Fourth Amendment

Technology has made our lives magical and a fantasy. Not too many years ago, to communicate with others we wrote letters (real paper snail mail ones), before going somewhere we called people to get directions and poured over paper maps, when we missed an exit in the freeway we pulled over at a gas station and asked for directions or used the coin operated public telephones and we also minded our own businesses, did not invade into people’s privacy and followed established legal procedures to prosecute people.

Although technology has brought flexibility and convenience it has not reduced crime and in fact crime is getting more sophisticated and we have to now deal with the traditional and the technology related crimes. One of these technology crimes happens by invading our privacy and getting hold of our personal information. On the flip side technology is also being used by the enforcement authorities to track down and keep the crime rate down.

The issue that then arises is the conflict between use of technology and traditional principles of law laid down in the Constitution. One of the most common area of conflict arises in the area of the Fourth Amendment which relates to right to privacy. The text of the Fourth Amendment states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

According to Wikipedia, the Fourth Amendment specifies that any warrant must be judicially sanctioned for a search or an arrest, in order for such a warrant to be considered reasonable. Warrants must be supported by probable cause and be limited in scope according to specific information supplied by a person (usually a peace officer) who has sworn by it and is therefore accountable to the issuing court.

This safeguards the citizens rights against the enforcement officials stepping over the line, following procedures established by law and not being persecuted under any pretext.

Across the country, police are using GPS devices to snare thieves, drug dealers, sexual predators and killers, often without a warrant or court order. Privacy advocates said tracking suspects electronically constitutes illegal search and seizure, violating Fourth Amendment rights of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and is another step toward George Orwell’s Big Brother society. Read here.

Craig Fraser, director of management services for the Police Executive Research Forum, said tracking technology’s new capabilities might eventually require legal adjustments.

“The issue is whether the more sophisticated tools are doing the same things we used to do or are creating a different set of legal circumstances,” he said.

It is true that technology is helping the enforcement officials catch offenders of the law and cuts down on the resources utilized but on the other hand what about the citizens invasion of privacy and how does one decide in what circumstances it is OK to cross the line and not follow established procedures. Privacy has been greatly affected by the advancement in technology and the new challenge is figuring out how to use technology without the government breathing over our necks and also other entities and individuals misusing our personal information.

The solution is to use common sense by not putting out personal information out in the open and courts restricting the governments use of technology without following procedures.

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August 14, 2008 - Posted by | privacy, Technology | , ,

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