A rare victory for individual rights

From narrowing the application of the Fifth Amendment to allowing police to take DNA without due process, the Supreme Court hasn’t exactly been friendly about our civil rights. Today, however, we saw a rare victory for those rights in a 9-0 decision:

The Supreme Court unequivocally ruled Wednesday that privacy rights are not sacrificed to 21st- century technology, saying unanimously that police generally must obtain a warrant before searching the cellphone of someone they arrest.

While the specific protection may not affect the average American, the court made a bold statement that the same concern about government prying that animated the nation’s birth applies to the abundance of digital information about an individual in the modern world.

Modern cellphones “hold for many Americans the privacies of life,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for a court united behind the opinion’s expansive language. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

Most cell phones on the market today essentially double as a computer we’re able to take with us everywhere we go. And for most of us we’re constantly logged into a number of essential and private applications, from email to texts to Facebook to whatever the latest trend happens to be. Allowing free wheeling access to these things is hardly different from giving over our mail, bank account information, and phone conversations. (Not that the illegal arm of the government, the NSA, doesn’t already have most or all of this stuff on file.)

This case was one of those rare no brainers where the only people against the inevitable decision were those with an interest in actively disregarding and violating individual rights.

Mainers made safer with LD415

The citizens of Maine will become just a little bit safer with the passage of LD415:

Lawmakers in Maine are putting themselves at the forefront of efforts to curb excessive surveillance by instituting new privacy safeguards.

On Wednesday, the state House voted 113-28 in favor of legislation that would in all but exceptional cases prohibit law enforcement agencies from tracking cellphones without a warrant. If enacted, LD 415 would make Maine the first state in the country to require authorities to obtain a search warrant before tracking cellphones or other GPS-enabled devices. The law would also require that law enforcement agencies notify a person that she was tracked within three days, unless they can prove that secrecy is necessary, in which case a delay can be granted for up to 180 days. LD 415 would additionally require the publication of an annual report online detailing the number of times location data were sought by law enforcement agencies.

Here’s a good way of thinking about this: If the police were to start following people around for little to no reason whatsoever – for any thing they deem to be ‘reason enough’ – we would rightly say they’ve crossed a line; at that point they would be common criminal stalkers unfit to wear a badge. That they are able to do exactly that from a remote location doesn’t change the fact that their actions need to be checked. If they can’t get court approval, then they don’t have the right to stalk people. Because, frankly, fuck that bullshit.

LD415 isn’t yet law. It has passed in the house (113-28) and senate (20-15), but it needs to go through the senate again for procedural reasons. These numbers raise an interesting question: Who are the 43 assholes who voted against civil liberties?