On Privacy: The Supreme Court Finally Got It Right!

January 23, 2012 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

By Mary Ludloff

Today is a landmark day for those of us concerned about privacy as it applies to our government agencies. In United States v. Jones the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police must have a search warrant before using GPS tracking devices to surveil criminal suspects. While all justices agreed that the tracking device placed on Jone’s jeep violated the Fourth Amendment’s unreasonable search and seizure protection, the justices were divided on how far the ruling should have gone. Justices Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan said that “the court should have gone further and dealt with GPS tracking of wireless devices, like mobile phones.”

While I agree that the ruling did not go far enough, it certainly is a sign that the court understands that technology capabilities aside, we (all citizens) do have a right to privacy within the vehicles we operate and that placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle requires a search warrant. I must confess that I have been poring over the oral arguments and trying to figure out which way the court would rule, but felt that it was too close to call. So while the rest of the world was focused on SOPA and PIPA last week (my esteemed co-blogger included), I was anxiously awaiting the court’s ruling. And thankfully, as a card carrying member of the high tech community and American citizen, it was well worth the wait!

I’m celebrating today but let’s not get carried away as the use of surveillance technology to monitor people around the world is on the rise and the jury is still out on whether law enforcement (or any other agencies) needs a warrant to access location data on our personal devices (IMHO, they should). For today, however, the Supreme Court has managed to render me a “cockeyed optimist” on the state of privacy.

Certainly it appears that privacy may become “the” competitive differentiator as TRUSTe has raised more than $15 million in Series C financing to develop new technologies and expand operations:

“As online privacy has increasingly become a concern for consumers, TRUSTe’s brand has benefitted. In the past 18 months, TRUSTe has nearly tripled in size – including sales, employees, and product offerings. TRUSTe now has over 5,000 customers including Yahoo, Microsoft, eBay, Facebook, AOL, Adobe, AT&T, Comcast, Disney, Weather.com, Apple, LinkedIn, Web MD, and Yelp.”

For those of us in the data collection and usage business, this is a signal that we must develop and enforce personal data collection and usage policies. As TRUSTe helpfully points out:

“Only 2% of sites have a mobile-optimized privacy policy, for instance… 7% of sites explain how long they store your data for (and presumably what data is stored), and 32% tell you how to go about deleting your account and data for good. This information is probably available on request, but it seems to be a natural fit for entry into the privacy policy. Just as apps must declare what data they need access to (Carrier IQ excepted, of course) on Android, shouldn’t websites declare what data they’ll access, record, store locally, and so on?”

It’s more than time for all of us to review and get our privacy policies in order and help out users by making them comprehensive, but short and sweet too. As United States v. Jones has shown, our Fourth Amendment rights are still somewhat intact—let’s make sure that as an industry we honor citizens’ expectations of privacy! (And for more information about our view on Privacy and Big Data, go to our special page.) I speak for the entire PatternBuilders team when I say: “The Supreme Court got it right!”

Entry filed under: Privacy and Big Data. Tags: , , , , , .

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