Want To See The Future Of Privacy? Look To France Today

by lgadmin

Daily Caller

Privacy, or at least the yearning for privacy is a funny thing. When asked whether they support “privacy,” historically most individuals have said “sure.” In a recent survey, however, “security” trumped “privacy” among nearly 30% of Americans under the age of 30, who declared support for government surveillance inside households as a way to improve the security of those living within those homes.

That 3 in 10 group of young American adults may be the leading edge of an anti-privacy movement that clearly has taken hold in France, where that country’s parliament just passed legislation permitting police to not only access data contained in individuals’ electronic devices, but to turn on such devices in order to record conversations and videos without the knowledge or consent of the devices’ owners. French President Macron has signaled his approval of the privacy-invasive measure.

American Generation Z-ers would feel right at home visiting France.

Much has changed since 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. government was engaged in an extensive surveillance program gathering cell phone records on American citizens without warrants. At the time, according to a CBS News poll, “nearly 6 in 10 Americans said they disapproved” of the program.

What has not changed here in America, is the language of the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution, which broadly protects us from government surveillance of our “persons, houses, papers, and effects” without a warrant, or at a bare minimum absent “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed. In fact, a seminal 2018 Supreme Court decision explicitly held that law enforcement could not access an individual’s cell phone records without first obtaining a search warrant.

Things are somewhat different in France.

As a member state of the European Union, French citizens do enjoy fairly broad protection for their private data in the hands of private companies, including social media.  Unfortunately for those same citizens, and unlike here in the United States, France does not have constitutionally enshrined protection for private personal information as against law enforcement agencies.

But in both countries, privacy is taking a beating at the hands of government, and here the Fourth Amendment has not appeared to slow the security juggernaut that prompts government agencies at all levels to constantly push for greater and greater access to information heretofore considered protected against such disclosure.

That thirst for information is being slaked in part by the millions of so-called “smart” devices installed voluntarily in Americans’ homes, most visibly by the prevalence of Amazon’s Ring Doorbell devices. Local law enforcement agencies eagerly and often gain access to data gathered by such seemingly innocuous devices, regardless of whether the homeowner desires to share such information (though many willingly grant police access to their cameras’ viewings).

It is, after  all – and of course, only – about criminal activity, so no one should worry about the data being abused by either law enforcement or the private companies that gather and actually own the data gathered. Right.

So it is in France, where the government is assuring citizens concerned about the scope of the new electronic device collection law, that the power will only be used sparingly and infrequently (the same arguments voiced by our government in 2001 when passing the USA PATRIOT Act). The language of the measure, however, belies such assurances, extending, as it does, to being able to access the devices’ monitoring capabilities not only for investigations of terrorism and organized crime, but also for individuals suspected of “delinquency.”

Closer to home, a number of major U.S. cities are now forcing private businesses to install surveillance devices at their businesses, at the owners’ expense, and to grant police access whenever they demand. Local governments in DeKalb County, Georgia in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and Houston, Texas are among cities making such demands on private businesses; demands that in years past would have been considered an intolerable overreach. In this age of heightened worry about crime, however, such breaches of privacy and property rights crumble.

As with so many liberty-reducing measures that make their way to our shores, they first take hold in Europe. As it was in 2010 when then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gushed over London’s then-newly installed traffic surveillance system, it likely will not be long before officials in U.S. cities and states will begin pressing to access individuals’ electronic devices’ cameras and microphones as “necessary” to prevent crime and terrorism. Mark my words.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.

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