🚗 🚙 Turn your trusty old car into trustworthy journalism Learn more

Can the Constitution handle modern technology’s issues?

Molly Wood Dec 28, 2011

Can the Constitution handle modern technology’s issues?

Molly Wood Dec 28, 2011

When it comes to technology, courts and legal scholars can run into some thorny issues. For instance, when does someone have a right to film you and put those images online? And what can you do about it once those images are up there? Jeffrey Rosen is with George Washington University Law School and has been thinking about how the constitution addresses modern technology.

He points to a case the Supreme Court is expected to rule on soon involving whether police can use GPS devices to track a suspect. The government has argued if you’re out of the house, you’re trackable. “It could have implications for a future where in just a few years, both Google and Facebook expect to be asked to put live online all public and private surveillance cameras in world,” says Rosen. “So if that happens, then we’ll be able to basically track each other’s movements 24/7 on mobile devices or on the Internet and what the Supreme Court says about the degree to which we have an expectation against ubiquitous surveillance will determine our protection in this brave new world.”

How close, I asked Rosen, does the Constitution come to addressing this issue that the founding fathers certainly couldn’t have imagined? “It’s a really good question because the Constitution only applies to the government,” he says. “It doesn’t apply to private corporations like Google and Facebook. So the Fourth Amendment says the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated. That might be construed to stop the police from using a GPS device, but the court might hold that if Google and Facebook are deciding to put these systems up on their own, then the Constitution simply doesn’t apply.”

“So the big clash may come over what’s increasingly being called ‘a right to oblivion,'” he says. “And the basic notion is that if there’s an embarrassing picture that you post yourself, you should be able to have it taken down. It just raises dizzying questions of property, who owns data, what happens once it’s widely shared, who can get it back — basically what right does one person have to control his or her image and what’s said or thought about him or her. “

More about Rosen’s work on technology and constitutional issues here. A panel discussion with Rosen on the issue can be found here.

Also in this program, a new email scam that pretends to be from Apple and asks you to update your information. Oldest trick in the book, right? Except this one uses perfect grammar, a rare commodity in these scams. We get some highlights of bad grammar from the inboxes and spam folders of our listeners.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.