Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

From drug texts to NSA: the privacy imbalance

Post by Brian O'Neill on March 2, 2014 at 1:11 pm with 7 Comments »
March 3, 2014 8:44 am

When a Longview police detective seized the phone of a drug dealer in 2009 and conducted a warrantless search, the subsequent arrest sparked yet another legal battle over privacy rights in the digital age.

According to an AP story by Barbara LaBoe, the case against a man whom police lured into a drug arrest using the dealer’s phone was overturned by the State Supreme Court last Thursday. I admit to mixed feelings on this ruling.

When a search and seizure issue emerges during an investigation, obtaining a search warrant is a foolproof remedy. But police work, with its constant stream of emergency calls and backlogged cases all clamoring for attention, is a fast-paced game. The search warrant process is a lengthy, often frustrating process that can effectively stall an investigation. As other tasks start piling up, the temptation to cut corners is tangible.

Despite this, law enforcement professionals must resist this urge, and not simply because privacy is currently a hot topic. In fact, it is the cornerstone of our democracy.

That is especially true in light of the NSA scandal. Working behind the scenes with some of the biggest software, computer and network companies in the world to tap into phone calls and emails, the federal government’s clandestine spy agency has garnered notoriety for its intrusive practices both at home and abroad.

Hiding behind the Patriot Act, the NSA’s practices ignore the most basic requirement for intelligence gathering: A criminal nexus. In layman’s terms, federal law requires a connection to criminal activity before a government agency is permitted to compile domestic records.

This threshold was clearly met by the Longview case above (evidence which could, and should, have been used to obtain a search warrant). By contrast, the NSA could point to no direct link to criminal activity when it cast an immense net across the country’s telecommunications system.

Thus the question raised by millions of privacy advocates: Why is the NSA allowed to scoop up trillions of bytes of our private communiques simply in a blind quest for terrorist activity?

Stephen Colbert/ AP Photo
Stephen Colbert/ AP Photo

This point was raised by comedian Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, at a recent tech conference in San Francisco. Reported in a CNN article, Colbert’s controversial appearance on behalf of RSA Security, a network security company recently under contract to provide encryption software to the NSA, was the cause for protests by some of his fans.

His response: “Many of you see me as a champion of privacy,” said Colbert. “Which I know because I read your emails.”

Though Colbert rides a fine line between right wing ideology and in-your-face satire on his show, he was disarmingly candid (and funny, of course) in his rejection of NSA’s eavesdropping program.

“We can trust the NSA because without a doubt it is history’s most powerful, pervasive, sophisticated surveillance agency ever to be totally owned by a 29-year-old with a thumb drive,” he quipped, referring to hacker Edward Snowden. He went on to disparage Snowden for his theft and flight to Russia.

Colbert’s point is valid. Not only has the NSA, and by association, the federal government, ignored its own laws on intelligence gathering, but its inflammatory collection of private data is currently being handed out, piecemeal, to anyone with access to a computer.

With respect to privacy, there is a huge chasm separating the Longview case and the NSA wiretapping scandal. That is why I must grudgingly agree with the State Supreme Court’s decision protecting the privacy of text messages. If the public’s right to privacy is not respected by those sworn to protect them, then who will?

We must continue driving this point home as technology insinuates itself further into our lives. Otherwise, governments won’t be the only entity scouring every byte of our digital lives in a blind quest to find…something.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. simonsjs says:

    Agree with most of your thoughts. NSA has turned into an illegal arm of the government.

    One other thing. We don’t have a democracy, so disparaging to hear that time and time again.

    WE HAVE A REPUBLIC WITH A RULE OF LAW.

    Democracy is equal to mobocracy. The founding fathers loathed democracy.

  2. smokey984 says:

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Loosely translated: “Who watches the watchmen?”

    Nice points Brian.

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And i will continue with: power attracts corruptible personalities. Once power is obtained people will fight to the death to keep it..When was the last time someone with power, using it (power) in the wrong context, voluntarily gave it up when confronted?

    We can use the most recent Ukraine situation as an example of the people having to rise up to force the corruptible personality aside…Coming to a city near you! And im not advocating violence here..just simply telling a truth based on the history of humanity.

    I would argue simonsjs point further, saying: We were founded on a constitutional republic, became a democracy and now we have an Oligarchy. Any time the people vote in a new law/regulation/statue and its overturned by a judge you know how this all ends….So how do we influence change in a society gone mad? 1. Soapbox, 2. Ballot box, and lastly 3. Cartridge box.

  3. smokey984 says:

    As more people begin to waken from the fearful and suggestible state that 9/11 created in their minds, it is possible that the Deep State’sdecade-old tactic of crying “terrorism!” every time it faces resistance is no longer eliciting the same Pavlovian response of meek obedience.

  4. smokey984 says:

    And apparently its not just our federal government ignoring our constitution. Hers a cute little story of Law Enforcement in Florida:

    https://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/police-hide-use-cell-phone-tracker-courts-because

  5. simonsjs says:

    Smokey we can see how effective 1 and 2 haven’t been.

  6. smokey984 says:

    I get it Simonsjs…most dont.

    – A free mind doesn’t deny the truth of what it sees. A free mind doesn’t excuse immorality away or shy away from it’s own perceptions in order to fit in or “not make waves.” Rationalizing, minimizing, making excuses to avoid the truth are signs of a mind pre-programmed to follow the herd. The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody had decided not to see. -Ayn Rand

  7. smokey984 says:

    In concerns to my first post at the end. I gave a 3 step to influence change within a society. Its actually a 4 step process.

    1. Soap box
    2. Ballot box
    3. Jury box (to include Jury Nullification)
    4. Cartridge box

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