Thursday, October 8, 2009

Meanwhile, Somewhere Over the Atlantic Ocean...

“The privacy and dignity of our citizens [are] being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen -- a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a [person's] life.”(1)

If a police officer were to come to your house and ask to come in and conduct a search without a warrant most people, assured of their rights from watching copious amounts of Law and Order, would flatly refuse and then call their attorney.

The same would go for your workplace or the locked trunk of your car. But what then about your cell phone or your laptop?

Imagine the upset and confusion that must have arisen when Bush came up with this doozy(2). Now your laptop, which for many people is not just a piece of hardware, but is instead a portable office, a diary, a shopping mall and a cinema to name but a few, is no longer a place where you could assume that you had an expectation of privacy. Shocking and disappointing as this was for me (an admitted foreigner) and my perception of the USA's proud tradition of civil liberties, more shocking still was the news that Obama was in favour of the new rules with a few minor adjustments.

If you fly as often as I do, my argument is very simple; I spend a lot of time on my laptop, and I do very many private things on my laptop (check e-mail, search for any random thing that pops into my head) then I should surely have a legitimate expectation of privacy which is not outweighed by issues of national security. Unfortunately, airport authorities need not even have any suspicion of wrongdoing to prompt the search. Granted airports have been traditionally exempt from constitutional protections (SCARY), but it's an interesting thought that even though you are carrying around your entire life, from trade secret business documents to medical records, on your computer, the law does not recognise these important possibilities.

I know many people will cry: "Who cares? It's only an issue if you have something to hide. I don't do anything illegal on my laptop." My reply, as always, is this: who draws the line, and who's to say that what is perfectly legal today won't be illegal tomorrow. As this very policy proves.



(2) Obama upholds Bush laptop search policy - with new safeguards

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