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December 05, 2011

Rosen Book: Tech & Constitution Clashes

ConstitutionJeffrey Rosen is the co-editor (with Benjamin Wittes) of a new book from The Brookings Institute, Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change. A constitutional law scholar, Rosen addresses the effect of changing technology on constitutional issues, and recently was interviewed on NPR

Rosen claims that “lawyers at Facebook and Google and Microsoft have more power over the future of privacy and free expression than any king or president or Supreme Court justice.”

In the book, Rosen suggests that new technologies, such as GPS tracking, are “challenging our Constitutional categories in really dramatic ways . . . And what's so striking is that none of the existing amendments give clear answers to the most basic questions we're having today.” 

Rosen seems to point to two ways in which technology has changed the perception of privacy, at least how the Fourth Amendment is concerned. First, there is the consideration of the amount of privacy people can expect in public places.  Second, there is the difference between short-term and long-term surveillance. 

In the book, leading legal scholars were asked to imagine technologies and hypothetiucal situations that might be developed in the next few decades that would challenge current thinking about constitutional privacy protections. One scenario he describes is particularly interesting:  websites such as Google post video from live surveillance cameras online and archive those videos in a database. Add in facial recognition abilities of Facebook, and it could be possible to search for the location of individual persons at any given time.  The challenge is the police could use this surveillance without any apparent Fourth Amendment limitations because no government action would be involved in obtaining the data.

Listen to the NPR interview.

Read: Corporate Counsel magazine interview with Rosen

Image: The Brookings Institute.




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