Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Naked Individuals and Omnipotent Governments

-- Revised By WanTingHuang - 04 May 2021

Search and seizure

Under the protection of the Fourth Amendment, people have a right that the government could not search or seize a person's body, houses, papers and effects unless it has a warrant issued with probable cause. Further, After the Katz case, the Supreme Court held that personal privacy should be also under the protection of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, in the twenty-first century society, people understand that if a government wants to collect a person’s private information, it needs authority, including a warrant, an authorization by law, or the consent of people. Nonetheless, there are some leaks in the system since the Fourth Amendment does not mention how to deal with the situation that the government gets information indirectly.

Surveillance creates power

In a war, if one party knows the other party more and earlier, it has more chance to win. However, here problem is that we are not the enemy of our government. The big government tries to use technology to govern people from cradle to grave. In other words, governments would like to surveil their citizens so as to consolidate their power, from convenience to compliance obedience, from online to onlife.

Using private entities to conduct surveillance and collect data

The most common way that we know about data collection is data collected by private companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Apple. If people concern about the commercial behaviors that collecting, using, sharing or selling their data to another company, we should also concern about how if this entity share or sell its data to the governments. Here, I would like to discuss three ways that a government agency gets people’s information from a private entity.

(1) Voluntary Providers

Every enthusiastic citizen may become an intelligence officer or a hacker militia. Not to mention those fervent companies who want to show their boon to the government. Take a messaging and social app, weChat, for example. Wechat is the dominant app in China, which has about 12 billion active users around the world now. In 2017, it releases a new Privacy Protection Guild, which acknowledges that all user information will be disclosed to the Chinese government. When you tell a secret to a “friend,” and the friend tells another person right after knowing your secret, would you trust the friend again? Obviously, we will say no. A company voluntarily shares its clients’ data with the government without authority is alike the friend telling your secret to another stranger.

Unfortunately, if a private company is so generous as to voluntarily provide their client's data with a government agency, the data collected by the company is beyond the protection of the Fourth Amendment. That is to say, if an individual don't want to share his/her conversation, the only thing he/she can do is resisting from using this company’s product and service anymore.

(2) Assisting Providers

Government departments ask companies or other entities to provide their client’s data via a warrant, an order or a “kindly request for assistance” now and then. Generally, a governmental agency needs a warrant to search or seize; however, sometimes a government agency may try to make a private company willing to share their client's data.

For example, in Canada, Canadian law enforcement agencies, National Security Agency, and other government departments can rely on the data collected by private companies or private sectors to help them execute their mission. Certain private sector entities are authorized to collect information and disclose information to government agencies without prior judicial authorization or proof that there are reasonable grounds for coercing these behaviors. In the United Stated, the PRISM program involved in the violation of the right to privacy as well. The PRISM program immunizes some private entities from legal action when they cooperate and assist the US government in information collection. Although many companies stood out and stated that they did not cooperate with the government, this does not make people’s apprehension disappear. Also, in many Asian countries, government agencies often request private entities to provide their client's information by a simple order beyond judicial authorization. Therefore, legality is really a big concern here.

This is some kind of gray area of the legal framework, but we could improve this situation by legislation. If a company provides its data to a government agency, it should affirmatively disclose it in public, and this disclosure obligation should prioritize over the non-disclosure agreement.

(3) Buying information from another company

In the database of Surveillance Industry Index (SII), we could find information in a report about commercial surveillance companies around the world, as well as historical records of transactions they have concluded with government agencies and telecommunications companies. It shows how companies from Israel, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the United States and other countries provide technical support to governments around the world, allowing them to sneak into network systems that carry e-mail and telephone communications.

Almost all countries are conducting surveillance programs and training engineers to execute surveillance. Additionally, many governments buy Deep Packet Inspection, a technique to perform censorship and monitor internet traffic massively. Moreover, under the Deep Packet Inspection, if a government uses passive interception, then most people will not notice that their data was inspected.

Better safeguard than sorry

There are still many people who do not aware of the surveillance abused in our daily life. Advanced technology has forced people to rethink the distinction between public and private, since the line between public and private is no longer be the same as the first time we learn the concept of privacy. We may not escape from surveillance as it already rooted in our community, but we have the opportunity to extricate from some part of it. The first step is to aware of when and where the surveillance may exist, and which entities may betray you. Once you have awareness, the second move is to determine to what extent being surveilled is acceptable to you. Then you can affirmatively choose to use the acceptable ones. It would probably not be an easy way, but being vigilant is a good start for people.

On the other hand, disclosure is not an obstacle or enemy to the governments. Rather, governments should take it as a chance to reduce information asymmetry, get people's trust, and increase its credibility and accountability. Thus, this will be a win-win for both a government and its people.

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r3 - 05 May 2021 - 03:16:45 - WanTingHuang
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