Privacy Protections in the 21st Century

The current rage is about a new handheld radar scanner used by police to ascertain whether a space is occupied or not. Here’s some interesting thoughts.

Police tech is going to advance. This much is certain. What needs to advance with it is the politics and the legal system. Aulhohandheld RADAR is a valid tool for the police, and its use should be allowed in certain controlled circumstances. Specifically, it should only be used when there is suspicion that a crime is being or has been committed, and this suspicion should pass muster with a judge, who will look at the facts and determine if the requirement has been met. Interestingly enough, there is already a process for this, called ‘getting a Warrant’.

Before computers and smartphones and this handheld RADAR scanner, police would catch bad guys by old-fashioned detective work — have a gumshoe tail the bad guy, look for informants, search the bad guy’s mail, and even break down the bad guy’s door and seize everything that wasn’t nailed down and a few things that were as evidence in a trial against the bad guy. The check against the cops’ power was that if they didn’t dot their i’s and cross their t’s in the investigation, the evidence used would be dismissed, even if the perp was guilty and should be in the clink. This concept is commonly called the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree.

Bad guys need catching, definitely, and cops do a sometimes thankless job. But we’ve gotten away from this core concept that evidence obtained illegally is inadmissible in court. Stingrays? Cops need to be reminded that tracking a suspected criminal is tracking a suspected criminal, whether you have a wireless device acting as the wiretap, or if it’s a physical thing. To get access to the phone, you need to go to the judge and get a warrant. Peering through a wall is the same as peering through a window. Both require permission from a judge. Even putting a GPS tracker on someone’s car should be done under the watchful eyes of the judicial branch, as should obtaining any sort of information like Onstar or ODBC data.

Increasing technology can do much to protect us. It can also create a dystopian hell, so it is incumbent upon us to use best judgement, and rely on principles that have kept us a free people for over 200 years.

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