Privacy, only at home

| Staff Columnist

This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case of United States v. Jones. The case deals with the legality of law enforcement officials using GPS tracking devices on American citizens. The Obama administration is essentially arguing that law enforcement officials have the right to use a GPS to track the movements of your vehicle, without a warrant, because you have no reasonable expectation of a right to privacy while in public. They should not have that right.

The very concept that the moment you leave your house you surrender your reasonable rights to privacy can be extended far beyond the government simply tracking your vehicle. If we cannot expect a degree of privacy while we are out in public, there is nothing, besides limited technology, to stop the government from simply tracking all citizens at all times they are not in their homes. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the government, and claims that our movements in public are not constitutionally protected, then we, as citizens of the United States of America, will have no shelter from any sort of observation outside of our homes.

GPS tracking of citizens reveals more than just their location; it tells you where they go, how they spend their time, whom they are meeting with. That is far more information than simply a location. Is it reasonable to have to surrender your right to any semblance of privacy of action or choice the moment you leave your home?

In a broader context, law enforcement use of GPS tracking devices on cars indicates their belief in the inherently flawed premise that “if you don’t have anything to hide, it’s not a problem.” The very idea that law enforcement would operate on this assumption is the opposite of what the American legal system is about.

That is a false assumption.

All people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. If you are being tracked without a warrant, law enforcement is operating on an assumption of guilt.

The Constitution does not make a right to privacy explicit, and that is unfortunate. But just because a right isn’t specifically laid out does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Everyone has the right to go about his or her daily life without being tracked by the government, and we should not let the government take away that right because law enforcement officials thinks it make their lives a little safer.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Tracking cars without a warrant is giving up that essential liberty, with no safety in return.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe