In an opinion column at the New York Times, George Washington University law professor Jeff Rosen discusses the right to anonymity and how it needs to be secured:
IN November, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could redefine the scope of privacy in an age of increasingly ubiquitous surveillance technologies like GPS devices and face-recognition software.
The case, United States v. Jones, concerns a GPS device that the police, without a valid warrant, placed on the car of a suspected drug dealer in Washington, D.C. The police then tracked his movements for a month and used the information to convict him of conspiracy to sell cocaine. The question before the court is whether this violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures of our “persons, houses, papers, and effects.”
It’s imperative that the court says yes. Otherwise, Americans will no longer be able to expect the same degree of anonymity in public places that they have rightfully enjoyed since the founding era. […]
But in a visionary opinion in August 2010, Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, disagreed. No reasonable person, he argued, expects that his public movements will be tracked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and therefore we do have an expectation of privacy in the “whole” of our public movements. […]
The Supreme Court case is an appeal of Judge Ginsburg’s decision. If the court rejects his logic and sides with those who maintain that we have no expectation of privacy in our public movements, surveillance is likely to expand, radically transforming our experience of both public and virtual spaces.
For what’s at stake in the Supreme Court case is more than just the future of GPS tracking: there’s also online surveillance. […] There is also the specter of video surveillance. […]
To preserve our right to some degree of anonymity in public, we can’t rely on the courts alone. Fortunately, 15 states have enacted laws imposing criminal and civil penalties for the use of electronic tracking devices in various forms and restricting their use without a warrant. And in June, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, introduced the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act, which would provide federal protection against public surveillance.