I Wasn’t Using My Fourth Amendment Rights Anyway

Anyone who has spent any time with me will recognize that I’m really not a huge fan of other folks getting into my business. If I could vote (I can’t as with lunatics, criminals and other dangerous people US permanent legal residents don’t get the right), I might be Libertarian, or “nuts” as my lovely wife would put it. We are heavily over policed in general and in my city in particular, I’d decriminalize, tax and regulate all drugs and what you do in your bedroom is entirely up to you as long as everyone involved is over 18 and having fun.

I do have a bit of a man crush on the smartest guy in show business (Mr. Penn Jillette), and at a show of his a couple of years ago I bought an interesting souvenir. At the show they sell a credit card sized piece of metal that has the fourth amendment printed on it (Penn signed mine… sigh… dreamy). The idea is that you put it in your pocket and go through airport security… where you will be stopped and searched without probable cause or a warrant… it’s a kind of an extended ironic joke. I actually did it exactly once… and nearly missed my flight as a team of low IQ minimum wage idiots tortured me over a joke they didn’t get.

It’s doubly ironic that, in our online age, our private emails are being stopped and searched routinely every day… every one of them. If you are one of the 400+ million Gmail users, our good friends at Google are routinely stopping and searching every email you send or read for opportunities to target you with commercial messages. It’s not being done by humans, and Google argues that that makes it OK. Their robots troll through all of our private correspondence from any source, much like the NSA listens to all of our calls, and the FBI snoops on the activities of their ex-wives or girlfriends.

In the current class action suite against Google, brought on a Don Quixote hopeless basis, a bunch of fourth amendment desperados are trying to stop Google doing this. Google’s answer is that it’s essential to help them filter Spam and provide the commercial basis for the service… i.e. the ads. They aren’t the only offenders; Facebook famously extracts every last scrap of personal data and makes it target-able by advertisers with a similar justification… “we have to, to pay the bills”. We the users love free services and we don’t seem to mind that the price of freedom is eternal interference in our private information.

It’s a tricky argument, one essentially predicated on a commercial need rather than principle. Outlook doesn’t serve ads, it does filter for spam, but since it’s a paid service they don’t scan content to target ads. Is it reasonable to ask a judge to thread the needle of that difference… I have no idea, it will be interesting to find out. In an age when we have apparently quite happily surrendered our privacy rights to big government, is it a logical extension to surrender the rest to big business?

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