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Is the Supreme Court ready for a 'sci-fi' future?

By Jay Garmon Contributor ·
"At John Roberts' confirmation hearings last week, there weren't enough discussions about science fiction. Technologies that are science fiction today will become constitutional questions before Roberts retires from the bench. The same goes for technologies that cannot even be conceived of now. And many of these questions involve privacy... They will include questions of surveillance, profiling and search and seizure. And the decisions of the Supreme Court on these questions will have a profound effect on society."

--Bruce Schneier, writing in WIRED magazine,1283,68911,00.html?tw=rss.TOP

To my mind, the most troubling issue facing privacy advocates (a group of which I would consider myself a member) is the redefinition of probable cause. Probable cause is law enforcement's free pass around warrant requirements, and it has a rightful place in the legal system. If police hear a woman screaming for help behind the locked door of a private residence, they shouldn't need a warrant to go inside.

That said, technology could be used to manufacture probable cause. For example, Schneier quotes this scenario: "Sometime in the near future, a young man is walking around the Washington Monument for 30 minutes. Cameras capture his face, which yields an identity. That identity is queried in a series of commercial databases, producing his travel records, his magazine subscriptions and other personal details. This is all fed into a computerized scoring system, which singles him out as a potential terrorist threat. He is stopped by the police, who open his backpack and find a bag of marijuana. Is the opening of that backpack a legal search as defined by the Constitution?"

The proposed scoring system manufactured probable cause, creating what some would characterize as a "reasonable" expectation that the suspect was dangerous. It will be up to the Supreme Court to determine whether such technology used in such a fashion is indeed "reasonable" and I'm not entirely convinced that the Court as it is currently comprised is up to the task.

Anybody want to persuade me I'm wrong?

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Why would I not disagree.

by JamesRL In reply to Is the Supreme Court read ...

Anyone interested in the subject should read "World without Secrets" by Richard Hunter, written in 2002. It goes directly to the implications of this rechnology and how it has been used in US jurisdictions.

I've met Richard and heard him speak at a Gartner conference. He has been right about many things.


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by JRod86 In reply to Why would I not disagree.

For anyone that hasn't read Richard's book, and therefore has no idea why you would disagree...Care to enlighten us??

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Simply that some jurisdictions

by JamesRL In reply to OK....

Are already using the facial recognition software, matched up with criminal records databases to detect when known criminals are walking around in high crime areas. If that prompts a patrol car to go to that area, how much of a reach will it be to stop people based on the same information. Its a slippery slope argument. No one is arguing that we drop the presumption of innocence, but this skirts that nicely, and we all start sliding down the slippery slope.

Other recent developments - sensors in cars that capture driving telemtry used to prove causality in accidents. How long before we get charged for speeding? There have already been cases where GPS units in rental cars prove a renter crossed state lines and rental car companies have charged extra fees based on that data.


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The future is coming regardless of whether we approve

by DC Guy In reply to Is the Supreme Court read ...

We can conceivably prevent the government from using technology against us. But there's no realistic way to stop our fellow citizens from doing so, simply because those who wish to do us harm will have no compunctions about breaking the law.

Everything we do will be visible and everything we say will be audible by devices that can see and hear through walls. And probably smell as well. All of our computerized records, which in the not so distant future will be pretty much everything, will be hackable by anyone--unless the human race grows up fast and replaces the Erector-set construction we laughingly call the "information infrastructure" with something truly engineered.

This is how the world will be. Just as we have to live with the fact that we can't get people out of our lives by moving to a distant city or even another continent, the way our ancestors could, we will have to live with the fact that the only truly "private" things we have left are the things we haven't said yet. And who knows how long that will last!

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