Modern technologies have made it easier in many ways for law enforcement to do their job. Tracking down individuals is now possible through tracking the mobile phone, while conversations are routinely intercepted and filtered by intelligence systems and personnel. This level of scrutiny of the individual is unprecedented, and now more than ever, privacy can at times feel compromised. At the same time, there is a greater need for security and a wider intelligence effort, given the nature and scale of threats posed by terrorism in all guises.
In arguably more trivial instances, tracking can also enable a stolen laptop to be recovered, or for a nuisance caller to be unmasked. From a legal perspective, it is worth thinking about how the concepts of privacy and security weigh up, to determine whether the law is currently moving in the right direction by permitting mobile tracking software and similar of tracking evidence.
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Individuals are entitled to a private and family life constitutionally, and the freedom and liberty of the person are enshrined values. Natural law holds this to be true, and governments and authorities need to consider any move away from this position to be an incursion on those philosophically inalienable rights. However, governments too have a responsibility to protect their people from harm. In some respects, this is one of the few legitimate primary functions of government, and authorities would be expected to take measures to keep their populations safe.
The reality is that there are threats to the security and safety of civilians all the time. Intelligence services work tirelessly to find ways of uncovering plots, crimes, and other serious misbehavior, which can have fatal consequences. When it comes to national security in particular, there tends to be little time for delaying on decisions. At the same time, technology makes it more possible than ever before for intelligence agencies to get hold of the information they need.
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This poses an interesting dilemma for authorities to resolve – whether to sacrifice some individual freedom and privacy for the security gains of solving and stopping more crimes. Critics say these issues tend to result in invasive practices that offer few rewards in return. But most can appreciate the difficulties that would face anyone in the position of making that call.
Legal experts, including Attorney Allison Spinner, find this a fascinating issue. The intersection between protecting privacy and unshackling security efforts is a struggle that is uniquely relevant to the world today, with technology and terrorism particular influences (albeit on completely different sides of the equation). With the revelations about the Prism surveillance program, and the ultimate fate of whistleblower Edward Snowden still to be determined, it looks like this issue may remain at the forefront of legal discussion for some time to come.
In reality, both privacy and security are legitimate aims for lawmakers to pursue. But this does not mean that the decision as to when and how to trade one for the other is an enviable one.