Today we entrust our information to more stewards than ever before. From notebooks to cloud storage, our secrets, personal information, and mundane data are all open to an invasion of privacy in some form or another. It shouldn’t matter how crucial or personal our documents are. We should feel entitled to the dignity of privacy, especially when we’re asking a third party to hold on to our information in exchange for modern conveniences. A doorbell shouldn’t become a vector for surveillance, and crucial tools like our phones should not be subject to unreasonable search via a series of loopholes. Where do we see alarming boundary crossings, and what can we improve before it’s too late? These are the questions we should ask as responsible technology and internet users.
Supreme Court Phone Faux Pas
The United States Supreme Court has recently been on the receiving end of what can be considered a socially engineered data breach if we look at the news coming out of the court from a certain angle. In response, clerks in the courts have had to contend with having to play defense to keep, what should be, their civil liberties intact.
This push into the lives and phones of the Supreme Court’s clerks comes as a bit of a surprise. Wired sometimes calls this a “disturbing about-face” . Particularly this about-face comes from Justice John Roberts. In the past, Justice Roberts and his court protected digital rights more than many of his contemporaries. For example, in 2014, the Roberts Court ruled in the case of Riley v. California. This decision protected cellphones at the time from warrantless searches similar to the way we look at vehicles, personal, or searches of the home. They’ve also ruled that the police violated the Fourth Amendment when they obtained and acted on cellphone location data for over a week without a warrant.
Today, these courts that once fought for reasonable cell phone privacy laws are pulling some of the same stunts to pick apart their staff without fear of any repercussion. The clerks are being asked “lawfully” to hand over their devices. The courts claim that there is no coercion taking place, and their phones are not technically being seized. This immediately rings alarm bells. At best, this is an employer weaponizing their employee’s careers to pick through their personal data. At worst, this sets a precedent for other leaders who feel like their clerks or staff have overstepped a boundary. While, in this instance, it could be argued that the court document leak is an egregious enough professional failure to warrant the phone affidavit, we can also see from statements released by the Justices that this cellphone deep dive comes from a place of personal anger. Words like “betrayal” crop up in quotes from Cheif Justice Roberts.
These calls for the personal phones of their clerks set an example for the American people. While the courts are, in some ways, different from a workplace or a police investigation (it should be noted that this is considered an internal investigation), we should also remember that choices that one of the primary checks and balances in the American government make are not often taken lightly. There may not be any broken laws in the wake of this internal investigation, but it should, at the very least, raise some eyebrows when we think about our digital privacy.
Police Privacy Problems
What do your doorbell, your fingerprint, and your cellphone have in common? The police can extract information from them without obtaining a warrant in a perfectly legal capacity. This may surprise many, especially after learning that the Supreme court has ruled more than once that your personal phone and its data should be considered private in some capacity.
Ring doorbells work closely with local police, giving them nearly unlimited access to your doorbell’s footage, and in the event that their access is limited by a time gate or a similar sanction, they can circumvent the rules by downloading all of your footage ahead of time to watch at a later date. Phone location data and fingerprint lock screens are simply laid at the feet of law enforcement. Ideally, these technological affordances are given to the police with the understanding that they will stop crime faster and bring to justice those that have done wrong. Still, in practice, these are no more than an extension of the government’s access to your location and privacy.
This information is troubling, not simply because it flies in the face of our common sense expectation of privacy, but because of the ways these oversights have been and will continue to be weaponized against citizens. There is a well-documented issue within the justice system of innocent suspects taking plea bargains simply because a narrative could be constructed out of tenuous circumstantial evidence or because they don’t understand the extent of their rights. The more we allow law enforcement unfettered access to personal data, the more we allow shortcuts in due process.
The Importance of Privacy
Privacy is a right that is hard to reclaim after it’s taken from us. The Patriot Act, for example, has famously overstayed its initial welcome, and we feel those effects every single day. A polite society has a basic respect for the privacy of its citizens, and we’ve seen first-hand how quickly technology can find new and bizarre ways to pull information out of us. A trinket on your door is not worth having your front yard beamed directly into your local police precinct every time a squirrel runs across the lawn, and we should not be expected to shoulder that burden for modern conveniences.
It is for that reason and more that AXEL believes in the importance of privacy. A draft of your novel is just as personal and private as your tax information. Our commitment to the privacy of our users is the foundation of our business. You can sign up for a 14-day free trial of AXEL Go premium and experience convenient and secure file sharing, storage, and retrieval without sacrificing privacy or quality.
 FOX CAHN, ALBERT. 2022. “The Supreme Court Is Building Its Own Surveillance State”. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/the-supreme-court-is-building-its-own-surveillance-state
 Wroclawski, Daniel. 2021. “What to Do If the Police Ask for Your Video Doorbell Recordings”. Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/legal-rights/police-ask-for-video-doorbell-recordings-what-to-do-faq-a8950763605/.
 Bambauer, Jane. 2022. “Letting police access Google location data can help solve crimes”. Washingtonpost.com. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/03/28/geofence-warrant-constitution-fourth-amendment/.
 Redlich, A. D; Summers, A & Hoover, S. 2022. “APA PsycNet”. Doi.apa.org. https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1007%2Fs10979-009-9194-8.
 2022. “Surveillance Under the Patriot Act”. American Civil Liberties Union. https://www.aclu.org/issues/national-security/privacy-and-surveillance/surveillance-under-patriot-act.