GPS tracking devices do not have power to rewrite Fourth Amendment

Futurists have been predicting for years that there will be diminished privacy in the future, and we will just have to adapt. In 1999, for example, Sun Mcrosystems CEO Scott McNealy posited that we have “zero privacy.” Now, Wall Street Journal columnist Gordon Crovitz is suggesting that technology has the “power to rewrite constitutional protections.” He is referring to GPS tracking devices, of all things.
The Supreme Court is considering whether it was unreasonable for police to hide a GPS tracing device on a vehicle belonging to a suspected drug dealer. The Bill of Rights protects each of us against unreasonable searches and seizures. According to the Fourth Amendment,

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.

In the case before the Supreme Court, U.S. v. Antoine Jones, the requirement to obtain a warrant was not problematic. In fact, the police established probable cause to suspect Jones of a crime and obtained a warrant. The problem is, the police violated the terms of the warrant, which had expired and which was never valid in the jurisdiction where the tracking occurred. Therefore, first and foremost, this is a case about police misconduct.

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Targeted ad bubble?

On Friday Scott Cleland predicted that online advertising is an investment bubble which will eventually burst as a result of latent consumer privacy concerns. Expect privacy concerns to be the eventual catalyst that ultimately bursts the Internet investment Bubble 2.0. It is rare when there is a profound disconnect and suspension of reality between industry behavior/investment expectations and customer wants, needs and expectations, but that is precisely what is at work in Bubble 2.0. In the Wall Street Journal, Scott Thurm reported that venture firms have invested $4.7 billion since 2007 in 356 online ad firms. The investment climate is “frothy” according to one of Thurm’s sources. And there’s an arms race among the start-ups for math specialists, he reports. Read More ›


Simple in theory, tricky in practice You want to save the world; you have a clear and simple idea. If it weren’t for the details! Ah, the pitfalls of regulation. From the Wall Street Journal, Seeking to be a leader in protecting online privacy, the European Union last year passed a law requiring companies to obtain consent from Web users when tracking files such as cookies are placed on users’ computers. Enactment awaits action by member countries. Now, Internet companies, advertisers, lawmakers, privacy advocates and EU member nations can’t agree on the law’s meaning. Is it sufficient if users agree to cookies when setting up Web browsers? Is an industry-backed plan acceptable that would let users see–and opt out of–data Read More ›

Promoting online privacy with phony symbolism

The New York Times reports that officials at the Federal Trade Commission are exploring a “Do Not Track” option on websites and browsers similar to the “Do Not Call” list which prevents unwanted telemarketing calls. Meanwhile, the White House has established an interagency panel to ensure that any restrictions do not impede law enforcement and national security efforts. A “Do Not Track” feature won’t protect consumers from unwanted ads, only relevant ads they are more likely to find useful. That’s the whole purpose of tracking. Advertisers, who underwrite much of the cost of Internet content, applications and services, will lose an efficient opportunity to connect with potential customers. For what? Meanwhile, even if there will be no tracking for commercial Read More ›

Behavioral advertising: Poor excuse for regulation

With U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and now the Federal Trade Commission holding hearings on privacy and online advertising, it seemed like a good time to visit the Google Privacy Center to see what categories Google believes I fall into based on my online behavior. My interests were:News & Current EventsThat was it. I could opt out of interest-based advertising or manage my ad preferences at the Google site, but, I figured, what’s the point? A Google representative told the New York Times that the Privacy Center pulls in tens of thousands of visitors each week. For every one person who opts out, four people change the categories they have fallen into, and 10 people do nothing, just look over Read More ›

Regulating behaviorial ads

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, is planning to introduce legislation to ensure privacy protection for Internet users. According to Boucher, Industry is to be commended for its recent advancement of self-regulatory principles. However, while proactive, these entirely voluntary principles do not go far enough, and there is no guarantee that every company that collects information from the Internet-using public will abide by them. * * * *The structure I have set forth should not prove burdensome for Internet-based businesses that rely on targeted advertising. In fact, it is in line with the practices of reputable service providers today. More importantly, by giving Internet users a greater confidence that they have Read More ›

Consumers have privacy options

According to House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA) Deep packet inspection enables the opening of the packets which hold the content of Internet transported communications. Through the use of DPI the content can be fully revealed and examined. It has generally accepted beneficial uses such as enabling better control of networks and the blocking of Internet viruses and worms. It also enables better compliance by Internet service providers with warrants authorizing electronic message intercepts by law enforcement. But its privacy intrusion potential is nothing short of frightening. The thought that a network operator could track a user’s every move on the Internet, record the details of every search and read every email or attached Read More ›

Privacy recommendations

An interesting report, “Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency” by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, focusing primarily on numerous process improvements within the executive branch. Process is important, of course, but I have never been convinced process is a substitute for the content of human hearts. According to the report, the government should make “strong authentication of identity, based on robust in-person proofing and through verification of devices, a mandatory requirement for critical cyber infrastructures,” but consumers should be protected from businesses and other services who might require strong government-issued or commercially issued credentials for all online activities (this could be done by requiring businesses to adopt a risk-based approach to credentialing). Well, goodness. I guess some might Read More ›

Stealing encrypted data

Researchers at Princeton have figured out how to crack encrypted files stored on a computer’s hard drive, according to the New York Times. “Cool the chips in liquid nitrogen (-196 °C) and they hold their state for hours at least, without any power,” Edward W. Felten, a Princeton computer scientist, wrote in a Web posting. “Just put the chips back into a machine and you can read out their contents.” This technique — which enabled the researchers to retrieve encryption keys from DRAM chips — can’t be carried out remotely via the Internet or a WiFi connection, only if your computer is stolen or seized. One way to look at this is to lament that one can’t be sure anything Read More ›

Give them immunity

With all due respect for the views of my colleagues (here and here) and commenters at Technology Liberation Front, former Sen. Bob Kerrey had this, and other, mature insights in an op-ed which appeared yesterday in The Hill regarding whether to include immunity for telecom carriers in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reauthorization: Consider the atmosphere: the president had gone before Congress and said “one vial, one canister, one crate, slipped into this country, could bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.” So if these companies refused to cooperate, by implication, that dark day could be on their conscience. And now they cannot even defend themselves in court, because the details of the investigations remain Read More ›