Today we use computers, tablets and phones to store and communicate all types of information including financial records, banking transactions, private and business messages, political opinions and pictures.
The intrusion into our private digital records has been the subject of news and entertainment. The movie Enemy of the State, starring Gene Hackman and Will Smith, provided an uncomfortable window into government’s digital snooping and spying. The extent of government invasion into digital privacy was partially disclosed by Edward Snowden. The disclosures by Snowden reveal that the actions depicted in Enemy of the State have an alarming basis in reality.
Law enforcement has technology by which it can identify messages, images, music, or political communication shared on peer-to-peer networks. Current technology allows monitoring of the Internet and specifically identifies those that receive or share any type of digital images or messages, targeted by law enforcement.
Law enforcement has also searched the contents of mobile phones upon making an arrest. One such search, following an arrest for driving on a suspended license, resulted in a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States in June 2014. The Supreme Court recognized the importance of preserving privacy rights in digital information stored on cell phones and ruled that police must obtain a warrant before reviewing the contents of a person’s cell phone.
The actions of government searching, monitoring, tracking, recording, and storing the communications of its citizens in the digital age pose a real and present danger to the freedom of speech and privacy that Americans hold so dear. The Supreme Court’s ruling is but one step toward preserving the right of privacy in the digital computer age.