Privacy rights a new challenge in the digital age

by Cait Conner

On Tuesday, Sept. 18, Simpson College celebrated its own second night of Constitution Day with guest speaker Jeffrey Rosen, a professor of law at George Washington University of Law.

Hosted by the John C. Culver Center, students and faculty flooded into Great Hall to listen to Rosen. Spare seats were needed so that all the attendees would have a place to sit while Rosen spoke at the annual Constitution Day lecture.

In his opening remarks, Rosen stated that his main topic: technology and the future of the constitution.

“Technology is changing the constitution”, Rosen said.

Through his lecture, Rosen gave potential scenarios relating to how digital technology present new challenges to Constitutional issues such as speech and privacy.

One future possibility could be Google and Facebook having access to and streaming 24-hour surveillance videos over their sites. Cameras potentially could be watching and locating people at nearly every moment, a reality that Rosen says he believes may someday come true.

Such technology could be unsettling if governments were to use such methods to gain information on people, Rosen said.

While Americans have an expectation of privacy, the right is never explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, Rosen said. The third, fourth and fifth amendments spell out rights such as unlawful search and seizure, but never mention privacy, he said.

Further, users of social media sites such as Facebook have relatively no privacy protected by the Constitution. The “Third Party Doctrine,” the prevalent legal theory in the United States, indicates that by posting media, verse or information online, a person forfeits much of the right to privacy, he said.

Developing new understandings of how privacy and Constitutional law fit in a digital world will continue to be a challenge, Rosen said.

Though the outlook may seem alarming, Rosen believes that a good way for gaining privacy is for political activism. Constitutional rights will not only be saved by the court, but by engaged citizens, he said.

“Be engaged by these fascinating issues, you don’t have to be a lawyer or an aspiring lawyer to be engaged, read the arguments and make up your own mind,” Rosen said. “Its foolish for privacy to be shaped by the courts,” Rosen said.

Because both political parties are so polarized ideologically, Rosen states that the upcoming presidential election has the potential to decide the future of the court.

Making a cameo appearance was Simpson College’s first Free Speech Wall lingering in the back of the hall. After the lecture, the audience was invited to add to the writings on the wall if they so wished.