A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

It’s hypocritical for me to complain about ad trackers when I use Gmail, a service controlled by the biggest ad-tracking network in the world. Who cares about trackers when Google has been reading my email for the last decade?

I tell myself Google is good, they promised to Do No Evil. That’s my stupid brain’s way of saying I’m lazy and Google is convenient.

A vocal contingency claims that the government is spying on us. Not really. Unless you did something to land on a terrorist watch list, the NSA sees you as part of the landscape.

The government isn’t out to get us. And that’s the problem.

Homeland Security did not request that every citizen carry a location-tracking device at all times. We chose to do that when we bought iPhones.

FinCEN did not develop a traceable payments network recording the time and location of every transaction; Visa and Mastercard did. We chose to participate in it.

If the government planted RFID chips on all our bodies, there would be outrage. But they didn’t. We did it to ourselves.

We can oppose a government conspiracy, but how do you argue against convenience? The technology that makes life so good and convenient just happens to be technology that enables mass surveillance.

So why are we surprised when the government wants to appropriate these tools for the purpose of law enforcement? Were we expecting service providers to protect the privacy that we were too lazy to protect ourselves?

Fourth Amendment rights prevent cops from casually invading our homes, but we’ve already invited Google to sit in the living room. The third-party doctrine holds that people who voluntarily give information to third parties have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Google calls the cops if it finds child porn in your Gmail box, and your bank calls FinCEN if it suspects laundered money in your account. They’re required to. And a bill reintroduced in December would require all technology companies to report suspected terrorist activity as well.

Still, we don’t want to stop advancing. With every new technology created to make our lives better, we constrict the times and places where we can expect to not be watched. Each connected device makes the expectation of privacy a little less reasonable. And once people get used to the loss of privacy, it is impossible to get it back.


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