Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

“I’m Here”… Just in Case

-- By JustinPerez - 10 Mar 2022

Current State of Smart Devices

The current stage of smart devices is currently focused on safety and security. It has presented itself as, “Alexa, call the police,” or “Hi its Siri, I have detected an abnormal heart rate,” or “Ring, you have an unexpected visitor at your front door.” Safety has become the key selling point instead of convenience. As the world enters a period of mass misinformation, fearmongering, and sensationalism, companies have tailored their selling points to take advantage of those feelings in exchange for listening to every conversation, tracking extensive biometric data, and access to a live feed inside and outside your home. In an article for Forbes, Scott Goodson quotes a phrase he read on Metafilter, stating, “If you are not paying for it, you are the product” ( As discussed in class, we are one butterfly landing on a petal away from total state surveillance. Every citizen in the United States subscribed to one of these services has transferred the responsibility of their safety to private companies because they believe the benefit outweighs the concern. This paper will evaluate whether this should be a concern, and whether this concern should plague only certain groups in the United States.

Who Should Care?

Who should care? The difference likely lies in the perceived oppression an individual has faced. An article by Angela Chen points out that, “about 73% of black Americans, for instance, are at least a little worried about what law enforcement knows about them, compared with 56% of white Americans” ( Black Americans have undergone systematic oppression and state surveillance since the formation of this country. Still, in the summer of 2020, police accessed social media during the Black Lives Matter protests to identify protestors as suspects for crimes ( While white counterparts are less fearful of the potential for private companies to use these safety smart devices as surveillance, Black Americans suffer the actual consequences due to over-policing. Due to the inherent privilege that comes with being white, the white majority in this country does not need to be alarmed by the increasing encroachment of total state surveillance. American history lacks examples of state infringement on white people’s rights. McCarthyism? presents the best argument against this premise, but that period was brief, and individuals were able to use the legal system to combat the accusations. For Americans of color, these devices present deadly consequences. They have the potential to allow broader policing of communities without extensive police manpower. Ultimately, the white majority in this country has the privilege to turn a blind eye, as their rights have historically been protected. Meanwhile, people of color should deeply care, but do not have the privilege to do so.

Now that We Care, What Can We Do?

The 4th Amendment protects only to the extent police abide by those principles in practice. Although the exclusionary rule deems certain evidence inadmissible, people of color will still be subject to police misconduct that often relies on workarounds of the 4th Amendment. Justice O’Connor’s deciding vote in Florida v. Riley becomes more important in determining whether individuals' usage of these services results in reasonable expectations of privacy. In Riley, the Court answered whether defendants had a reasonable expectation of privacy when a helicopter was in public airways at an altitude at which members of the public travel with sufficient regularity. As these devices continue to push the limits of “social connectedness” and “overall safety,” we find ourselves in the wilderness of which services are reasonably expected to be considered private. Does the family with a Ring device at their front door not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, allowing police to use their camera as a live feed to surveil a potential criminal fleeing through their neighborhood? Most Ring owners post videos from their devices for the public to view, which lowers their expectations of privacy in these videos. The white majority has the privilege to rely on the legal system to fight for invasions on their privacy. This was true during McCarthyism? and is true now. People of color should resort to other methods of maintaining privacy. Using Tails and limiting their contact to surveillance technology is the first step in combating the new wave of devices. Still, government agencies can use new tactics to bypass these barriers. As a result, people of color should be informed about these privacy skills.


These devices are in most American homes, in some way. The question is not whether we should trust the government to protect our privacy interests, but whether the tension between who cares and why will ultimately dissipate to allow broader protection for those that most need it.

Chen, Angela, Most Americans think they’re being constantly tracked-and that there’s nothing they can do,” TechnologyReview? (Nov 15, 2019)

Goodson Scott, If You're Not Paying For It, You Become The Product, Forbes (Mar 5, 2012).

Rihl Juliette, If your mom can go in and see it, so can the cops’: How law enforcement is using social media to identify protesters in Pittsburgh, Public Source (August 6, 2020)

Certainly an improvement, much better edited than the first draft. But the new sentences needed the same tightening, so there's more brevity to achieve. The conclusion is out-of-scale: Tails for laptops seems like a small and ill-fitting prescription for minority youth, or however it would be best to think of your intended readership.

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r4 - 12 May 2022 - 16:48:23 - EbenMoglen
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