News Column

EDITORIAL: Privacy not what it was

January 22, 2014

St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.



Jan. 22--The digital age is wreaking havoc on the idea of personal privacy. Look no further than the smartphone to see how this is true.

As a column elsewhere on this page notes, the high-end cell phone has replaced a half-dozen or more devices in becoming nearly inseparable from the person carrying it.

Not only can you make calls, but your entire contacts list and much information about whom you have called is available for anyone who picks up the device. Your interests in music, the publications you read, records of electronic payments, logs of the places you have traveled -- all of this information is with you 24/7.

Or, if not, it can be retrieved from the vast phone data storage warehouses our government is prone to mining when seeking suspected terrorists or others with criminal intent.

It should not be surprising the law enforcement community has found this treasure trove of information to be enticing. And to an extent, we should acknowledge the need for officers to follow leads where they might take them.

Bad guys, too, have great interest in your data. And no doubt, spouses who are breaking up, business partners who have had a falling out and many more people soon will understand a cell phone is an unmatched resource for digging up information others would like kept private.

State Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, hopes to block law enforcement in Missouri from overreaching. He is proposing an amendment to the state constitution requiring a search warrant supported by a probable cause statement to obtain cell phone records. This step is a higher bar to access than simply obtaining a court order finding there is a reasonable belief the records could be important to an investigation.

This limited proposal would not affect federal standards, which are in flux. An appeals court in Texas has held authorities need only a court order to obtain phone records that can be used to track a person's movements. The Supreme Court just last week agreed to decide whether a warrant is required to search a cell phone of a person arrested.

Meanwhile, President Obama has pledged to reform how the National Security Administration stores and uses phone data. But he stopped far short of ending the surveillance program or of explaining how access to the data will be controlled in the future.

These are trying times for privacy advocates -- and for any individual who has privacy concerns.

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(c)2014 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)

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Source: St. Joseph News-Press (MO)


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