In the world of law, conflicts between the press, the government and the right to privacy are inevitable. However, understanding the power of privacy and the importance of privacy can make these conflicts go much smoother.
The first thing you need to understand is that Americans have been concerned about their privacy since day one, or the inception of the United States. Now, in the 21st century, the concern about privacy increases year by year.
However, although the concern for privacy has increased, it is far different than it was years ago. Before, people were concerned about soldiers in their homes or reporters snooping around. Now, people are concerned with technology allowing other individuals or even the government to watch them, listen to them or learn their inner-most secrets.
This paranoia of being watched by others or the government didn’t just arise from conspiracy theorists and somehow become a relevant idea. In fact, this concern was actually confirmed in the Summer of 2013 when the public learned that the U.S. and British intelligence agencies mined data from nine United States Internet companies as part of its PRISM program, which was designed to secretly gather information to fight terrorism.
Another reason the concern for privacy has increased is with the countless of important information available online. For example, a “doxxing” website recently exposed the Social Security numbers, credit reports, mortgage information, addresses, phone numbers and other sensitive information of celebrities and government officials.
For those unaware, doxxing is the practice of finding information about a person from limited, publicly available data. In other words, it is someone finding all of your information online, whether you want it online or not. This is important because it can happen to anyone.
This leads into the next concept, digital privacy invasions. These are serious because, like doxxing, they can lead to identity theft, as someone can access another person’s Social Security number, bank account number or passwords for various websites.
It’s also important to note that current federal and state privacy laws do not sufficiently protect American consumers. Instead, today the burden of understanding website’s privacy policies relies solely on the online users. Unfortunately, regardless of your privacy setting, it appears that truly nothing is private when on the internet in this day and age.
Being so important, you can surely bet that privacy laws and the Supreme Court have clashed many times. In 2010, the Supreme Court held that government employers may see public employee’s text messages sent and received on government-issued devices if the searches have a legitimate work-related purpose and the public employees have been told not to expect privacy.
This can be seen in the case, City of Ontario v. Quon, as a police officer used a department-issued pager to communicate with his wife and mistress. According to the court, the messages were sexually explicit. Although the officer used a department-issued pager, he claimed that city violated his reasonable expectation of privacy. Of course, in accordance with the 2010 ruling, the court ruled that the city and police department had full authority to search his pager, thus limiting his privacy.
However, although privacy has naturally diminished throughout the years, there is one major driving factor that really ripped the idea of privacy apart. This factor was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers, which is understandable as it was a monumental, defining and nation-shaping catastrophe for the United States.
Because of the attacks, employees of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) may open and look through traveler’s luggage. This also lead to the enactment of the USA Patriot Act, which allows the government to obtain information about anyone from public libraries,businesses, hospitals and internet service providers.
As you can see, because of advances in technology, amount of information available online and terrorist attacks, the meaning of privacy has changed throughout the years and only continues to be diminished as time goes on. In regards to the court of law, it appears that what an individual views as private can actually come back and be used against them if it pertains to a certain case.