When I first started writing these OpEds for The Edgefield Advertiser, I was thinking that there was only so much one could say and too soon the columns would become repetitive. But like many of you, I read a lot of newspapers (some online), listen willingly or not to too much news on the radio, and usually watch Jon Stewart or some network news on TV. Now I’m thinking that with all the governmental mistakes that seem to surround our lives, there will always be a fresh topic to talk about. Here’s another one that should unite us all, Republicans and Democrats, in asking our legislators to change things: the increasing loss of our privacy.
If you have a cell phone as virtually everybody seems to, then you are probably aware of the current issues about what the government is, and is not, allowed to do in tracking your calls. Back in the olden days when all telephone conversation was over telephone lines, our courts wisely decided that wiretaps, whether by your neighbor, the people or companies whom you called or who called you, or the government, were illegal. Only the government could legally tap your phone, and then only if they had “probable cause” that you were the suspect of a crime. The police would need a warrant signed by an appropriate judge, just as they would need a warrant to invade your privacy by searching your house. With the advent of wireless telephony, even before cell phones all that changed. Is it still a “wiretap” if there is no physical connection to a telephone wire, just an antenna picking up phone calls? The law right now is unclear; the best answer I have heard is a variation on “well, it depends.” What it depends on usually is the motivation of the tapper, not the knowledge or consent of the person being listened to.
Cell phones now have another feature: they are location aware, especially smart phones. Can the government (not to mention big business) “tap” into the system to see where you are, even when you are not using the phone? The answer is yes. But that answer is a little disingenuous – as my high school English teacher emphasized, there is a distinct difference between “can” and “may.” The technology is there; the government definitely “can” find you if you are carrying a smart phone, but “may” they: do they need permission, for example, from a judge? The answer once again seems to be, “it depends.”
Here is where Republicans and Democrats can come together. If you’re a Republican, you probably deeply distrust the ethics, morals, and legal judgments of the Obama administration, and you’re not too sure about those people in Columbia. If you’re a Democrat, you almost certainly felt that way about the George W. Bush administration, and you’re also not too sure about those people in Columbia. Maybe you’re like me, and don’t really trust any of them: power corrupts, so let’s reduce that power no matter who wields it. We can start by coming to this consensus: cell phone location records are private, and at least at the state level the government should need a warrant to access them, each and every time.
That should be the law. But is it now? The answer: it depends. Let’s agree to make it the law, period. Contact your state legislative delegation. We can start there. We need to rein in Big Government, whether state or federal, and thereby increase liberty and freedom for all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike.