By John Wegener

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Our digital footprint is the trail we leave behind when we surf the internet. Our digital footprint is the key to what we like to do on the web and while we consume information when connected to the internet. If this information is accessed by companies, their tendency is to utilize this information to get a better understanding as to how we think. That is why it is important to manage our digital footprints—to protect our privacy and increase our sense of security.


The components of internet privacy and security in the United States are controlled by the court system, judging what “privacy” means under the constitution. If the constitution is interpreted liberally, the right to privacy is implicitly stated in amendments one, four, and nine. If the constitution is interpreted conservatively, the right to privacy is not explicitly stated in the constitution, therefore there is no guarantee of privacy from the government. It is important that people are aware of how the nature of security and privacy operate in our democracy because the landscape of the Supreme Court is subject to change with one vacancy currently and likely more to come. This brings issues to the table such as surveillance, internet privacy, and other unforeseen internet data usage exploits against our privacy coming in the future.

Surveillance and Cell Phone Privacy

Surveillance is the act of watching someone or a group of people for the purpose of gathering information about them. Governments do this to prevent crime from occurring, detect crime as it happens, reduce citizen’s fear that crimes will happen, gathering information on criminals and countering terrorism among others. Unrestricted access to surveillance creates a society with a lot of security, but very little privacy. If we are constantly being watched, there is no private life and therefore we act differently than we normally would. Privacy in the eyes of the law is very important in the government arguments over the amendments that don’t clearly state a position on privacy. “A community’s use of surveillance cameras could potentially implicate both types of privacy interests. For example, if the compilation of information in these databases had a significant chilling effect on First Amendment rights, such as discouraging citizens from attending political rallies, if it impinged on fundamental rights of decisional privacy, or if the information were insufficiently safeguarded against unauthorized disclosure, then the maintenance of such databases could potentially run afoul of the law” (Woodward). The more people accept violations of privacy by surveillance and data mining systems, the more traction the corporations that use them get in the eyes of the law. Corporations with these technologies and algorithms can create a profile of data for each person that passes through the net, and sell that information to other companies. This creates incentives for the government to work with these companies if the public is supporting programs that use surveillance technology, and before you know it our government is in the business of taking information about all of us. When this occurs, surveillance technology could be used in law enforcement, creating a police state.

As cell phones are concerned, They are the perfect devices to collect data on our shopping habits, our whereabouts, who we talk to, how we interact with people, how we learn, and pretty much everything about us can be found out through our phones. Cases of phone surveillance and security have pervaded the courts since the invention of the telephone prompted wiretapping scandals, and it is still being debated because of recent school shootings in San Bernadino. “Take, for example, the 1928 case Olmstead v. United States, in which the Supreme Court ruled that wiretapping could be conducted without a warrant; then compare it with the 1967 case Katz v. United States, when the court essentially said the opposite. ‘The justices had phones [by 1967], and they knew that they talked about their most private stuff on those phones," says Jennifer Stisa Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. "So a case that considered warrantless wiretapping looks a lot different. ... And I think that same exact dynamic is happening here.’ It's unclear when or if the legal dispute over the San Bernardino iPhone will reach the Supreme Court, but the court's past opinions are informative as the Apple-FBI legal clash continues. Below are some of the key cases in which the top court has been asked to evaluate similar concerns” (Lachance). Privacy questions go back and forth in court cases over the course of history, and with the new interconnected society, privacy questions at the Supreme Court level will become increasingly important.

Protecting Yourself

If our government decides that privacy is not guaranteed to the citizens, we will need to be able to protect ourselves from our own government and powerful companies that have unfettered access to our data, the key to accessing how the minds of the consumer operates. If this is the new legal norm, greater data freedom among companies will allow for employers to search through much more information before hiring someone. “Employment law in most states provides little protection to workers who are punished for their online postings, said George Lenard, an employment lawyer at Harris Dowell Fisher & Harris in St. Louis. The main exceptions are workers who are covered by collective bargaining agreements or by special protections for public-sector employees; members of these groups can be dismissed only ‘for cause.’ The rest of us are ‘at will’ employees, holding on to our jobs only at the whim of our employers, and thus vulnerable” (Internet Society).

Balancing Privacy and Liberty

Ben Franklin believed that there was an inverse relationship between our sense of security and our sense of liberty, saying that there is no price of security worth sacrificing any freedom for. President Obama shared similar views regarding privacy. In a speech regarding the balance between privacy and security, Obama says, “I can talk broadly about the balance that we have to strike. Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various, dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk. U.S. national security is dependent on those folks being able to operate with confidence that folks back home have their backs, so they're not just left out there high and dry, and potentially put in even more danger than they may already be. And so I make no apologies, and I don't think the American people would expect me as Commander-in-Chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed. Now, the flip side of it is we also live in a democracy where a free press, free expression, and the open flow of information helps hold me accountable, helps hold our government accountable, and helps our democracy function" (Obama). President Obama chooses security over privacy, but that is generally the case in times of war. With enemies having the potential to harm Americans if they have more and more information about whereabouts and strategies, the president has no choice but to battle the spread of information with the collection of more information of the citizens to try to reinforce security. The subtext of this speech is that Edward Snowden, former CIA operative and NSA leaker, leaked information regarding US National security operations and NSA programs that he thought were an invasion of privacy. He has even made a case to be pardoned on the case that he opposes the national surveillance state. “Edward Snowden has set out the case for Barack Obama granting him a pardon before the US president leaves office in January, arguing that the disclosure of the scale of surveillance by US and British intelligence agencies was not only morally right but had left citizens better off. The US whistleblower’s comments, made in an interview with the Guardian, came as supporters, including his US lawyer, stepped up a campaign for a presidential pardon. Snowden is wanted in the US, where he is accused of violating the Espionage Act and faces at least 30 years in jail” (Friedman).


Privacy and security issues are very important to the future of our country in this crucial time of maturation of the internet. We have yet to acknowledge the power of freely accessible internet use for both good and for other purposes like companies making profit, and hackers exploiting the technology. The US Government will face a myriad of choices as the Supreme Court will be forced to decide on the issue of internet privacy in the coming years.


Lachance, Naomi. "At Supreme Court, Debate Over Phone Privacy Has A Long History." NPR. NPR, 8 Mar. 2016. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.

"Internet Society." Protecting Your Identity. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.

Friedman, Mark. "Edward Snowden: Hero Or Traitor? Considering The Implications For Canadian National Security And Whistleblower Law." Dalhousie Journal Of Legal Studies 24.(2015): 1-23. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Nov. 2016.

Woodward, John D., Jr. Privacy Vs. Security : Electronic Surveillance In The Nation's Capital. n.p.: Santa Monica, CA. : RAND, 2002, 2002. MU Library Catalog. Web. 4 Nov. 2016.

Bahadur, Gary, William, M.S Chan, and Chris Weber. Privacy Defended. [Electronic Resource] : Protecting Yourself Online. n.p.: Indianapolis, IN : Que, 2002, 2002. MU Library Catalog. Web. 4 Nov. 2016.

Obama, Barack. "Security And Privacy: In Search Of A Balance." Vital Speeches Of The Day 80.3 (2014): 102-107. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Nov. 2016.

Stross, Randall. "How to Lose Your Job on Your Own Time." The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Dec. 2007. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.