December 17, 2012, 1:34 PM — Back in the Stone Age of the online privacy debate, in 1999, Sun's then-CEO, Scott McNealy, raised the hackles of privacy advocates when he said about being on the Internet, "You have zero privacy, anyway. Get over it."
If McNealy was right 13 years ago, then we have less than zero privacy today. And things are just going to get worse.
In 1999, some marketers might have been able to make hay by using your search history and browsing habits. Now, more than a decade after 9/11, the government can easily access those things, along with your text messages and emails, and it can, without a warrant, use your cellphone to pinpoint your location. And take a look at what's coming: One day, the devices in your home will gather and transmit information about the most intimate parts of your life. This will ostensibly be for your convenience ("Hi, Preston, it's your refrigerator. Did you know you're almost out of milk?"), but various government agencies are going to covet all that data. They're going to feel the same about all the personal documents we'll be storing in the cloud, just begging to be perused.
The courts and federal and state laws have not kept pace with the privacy issues raised by the fact that so much of our data exists in a realm beyond our complete control. And the limits on government's ability to access that data are not well defined. For example, in Louisiana, a federal appeals court is in the process of deciding whether the data gathered by your cellphone as it tracks your location constitutes business records that belong to the phone company or personal records that require greater privacy protections. Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, a judge disallowed evidence that police had gathered from cellphones, some with a warrant, because an officer had read a text message during the initial investigation into the death of a six-year-old boy without first getting a warrant. That case led Rhode Island lawmakers to approve legislation requiring the police to obtain a warrant prior to searching a cellphone, but the governor vetoed the bill, preferring to defer to the courts' discretion in such cases. And while much has been written about the downfall of David Petraeus, we have not reached consensus on what circumstances would justify the unobstructed access to personal email that the FBI utilized while investigating matters involving the former CIA director.