Privacy: A Right or a Choice?

As the Supreme Court determines whether phones will be insulated from warrantless searches, privacy has come to the forefront of debates across the nation. Just yesterday, the White House released a report on “Big Data: A Technological Perspective” to discuss the ramifications that big data may have on privacy in the future due to the technological advancements and those still to come (the full report can be found here). While “big data” and technology often make our lives more convenient, will there ever come a time where the right to privacy, established in Griswold v. Connecticut, becomes a choice rather than a right? Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 491 (1965). Certainly, this question concerns some people who are calling for privacy law reform to ensure our right to privacy will never become a choice. However, such reforms our difficult when technology affects privacy in essentially every aspect our lives, from healthcare to consumerism. Eric Wilkens, Experts Urge Balance Between Big Data and Privacy in Health Care, Princeton (Apr. 11, 2014);  Stephanie Cliffor & Quentin Hardy, Attention, Shoppers: Store is Tracking Your Cell, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2013).

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), in releasing the report, determined that perhaps the use of data should be the focus to reform rather than the actual collection and analysis of the data. John P. Holdren, Susan L Graham, & William Press, PCAST Releases Report on Big Data and Privacy, The White House (May 1, 2014). It outlines a future where a person preparing for a business trip can leave their luggage outside all night to be picked up and transported to their destination since their itinerary and travel plans are stored in their cloud. Additionally, the luggage is outside all night without fear of it being stolen because each item has an RFID tag and a thief could be tracked and arrested within minutes of stealing something. This scenario continues with the person entering the airport, and having no luggage since it is already on its way to the hotel, the person can go directly to their gate without the hassle of security: her identity is known upon entry to the airport, the RFID tags in her clothes allow for easy identification, and videos can vet the person’s emotional state to be acted on if they show any signs of dangerous activity. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Big Data: A Technological Perspective, The White House 1, 17 (May 1, 2014). The report provides many other scenarios where technological advancements in the area create privacy concerns. Id. However, as the above scenario indicates, it is also apparent that technology is just beginning to integrate itself into our lives and there is no end to the possible advancements intended to make our lives easier and better. Therefore, the idea of limiting the use of the data seems to be one of the only options. But is that enough?

There is a fine line between an advancement intended to provide a convenience to the people and those advancements that could seriously impede on the person’s right to privacy. Eventually, people are going to have to make the choice: convenience or privacy. Many choose convenience, as the right to privacy does not directly affect them if they believe they have nothing to hide. However, the right to privacy is one that affects every individual in the nation. It is a right and a person should not have to give up this right to benefit from the technology that has greatly impacted and bettered our country and the world. Privacy seems to quickly be turning into a choice as people have to decide whether they mind if their information is being held in a cloud that can be accessed by many. They have to determine if they mind that someone is watching them upon walking into a store to track their shopping habits or if they mind that their Internet activity is also being tracked. But what options do people have? Forego using the Internet when it is so integrated into our society? Not use a smartphone when people are now expected to be available 24/7? Or, simply decide to give up their right to privacy and accept that privacy is now a merely a choice, and accept that their personal lives are no longer personal. Clearly, one solution is to push for more reform to the nation’s privacy laws to catch up with technology to ensure that privacy remains a right, rather than a choice.