18th Century Privacy, 21st Century Technology

Michael E. Buerger, Bowling Green State University
Thomas J. Cowper, New York State Police

The modern understanding of privacy is undergoing severe strain as advancing technology and rules of law diminish sphers formerly thought of as protected. Though as recently as Kyllo the Supreme Court anchored privacy expectations in the era of the American Constitutional Convention, emerging technological capabilities in both the public and private sector have eroded the practical expectation of privacy in many venues. The new authority of government to gather information and maintain it in the wake of the Patriot Act, the creation of DNA databases, the issues related to voluntary surrender of otherwise protected information in order to obtain services from the private sector, and the associated downstream uses of purchased data, all call into questions whether anything remotely resembling the Founding Fathers' vision of privacy can be maintained in the 21st century. This paper explores those issues and their offshoots, such as identity theft, call sfor a national identity card, and whether or not there is any effective defense at law or in practice against an increasingly intrusive technological age.

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Updated 05/20/2006