Earlier today I came across this article about a ruling a Virginia judge made regarding whether or not any one using a personal computer that’s hooked up to the net has any reasonable expectation of privacy. To clarify, the judge does not feel that we should assume anything on our computer’s are private “because computer security is ineffectual at stopping hackers.” And I’m just flabbergasted.
Not because of the impact such a statement had on the case the judge was presiding over, it was the prosecution of a man who was found to have been downloading child pornography by the FBI despite using the tor network to obfuscate his online activities, but because of the precedent this sets. The FBI obtained this information, as well as identifying hundreds other who were downloading similar content, through a legal warrant. This judge is now saying the FBI required no such warrant because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
I will admit, his reasoning sounds stupid to me. Basically, because the internet is now more or less set up to track all of our activity, mostly by social media and other large sites that sell off the information they collect on us, and because there is a growing industry of corporate or government sponsors developing and arsenal of tools to penetrate personal and public networks, we have no right to expect that the machines we buy with our own money, that we use for a million different things in our day-to-day lives are private. What this means is that the government can argue that they aren’t infringing on your civic liberties by invading and monitoring your computer and your internet activity. However, what’s to stop defense attorneys from arguing that a private citizen invading and monitoring your computer and internet activity has done nothing wrong, since essentially, your computer is not a private space.
Let’s apply this logic to meatspace. It is obscenely easy to break into private property – even with a fancy alarm system. There are so many ways to illegally enter a property, and it happens with shocking frequency. Moreover, it’s a type of crime where one rarely gets caught. So by that standard, how can we reasonably expect privacy in our own homes? Anyone could break in at any time and leave before getting caught. Why, then, should law enforcement require a warrant before searching and seizing property? The argument doesn’t sound any better when you frame it this way, does it?
Maybe this all seems to absurd to me because I live in a country where hacking into anyone’s computer, or email, or social media account is viewed in the eyes of the law exactly the same way as a physical break-in. And my government (nor any agency working on their behalf) has not brought forth multi-million dollar lawsuits to force computer and smart phone manufacturers to build back doors that would allow them to spy on citizens. So maybe I’m taking a few things for granted.
For a country that spends a lot of time trumpeting freedom and democracy, America is really contradicting themselves when it comes to the internet. It’s like the internet is this big scary menace, worse than communism. There is a war going on in cyberspace and it have nothing to do with 99% of the people on using the net, and yet it has everything to do with us. We are slowly losing freedom over what we can do on the net and I’ve yet to see a compelling argument for why this is in our best interest.