Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunce: Columbia, South Carolina Police Chief Ruben Santiago”

A few quick points, before I present Chris Marschner’s excellent Comment of the Day:

  • You know you’re posting too much when a you’ve completely forgotten an essay less than a month old, like this one.
  • Why didn’t someone tell me that I left the “l” out of “Columbia”?
  • I’m going to have to start working on my proof-reading again, clearly. There were a couple more typos in this post.
  • Chris just started commenting, and this is the third carefully written, well-reasoned substantive piece he has produced. I am grateful; such debuts raise everyone’s game.
  • I liked this post, and not many people read it or commented on it. I am increasingly worried about the trend in law enforcement and in government generally, especially the schools, to brush off free speech as an inconvenience. I’m grateful to Chris for raising the issue again.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Dunce: Columbia, South Carolina Police Chief Ruben Santiago”:

The argument that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear is fundamentally the most chilling utterance a person can make. It is intended to elevate the maker of the statement to a morally superior position and shut down any opposing points of view. It is most often used when the maker has no rational basis for the argument it proffers.

If the user of the tactic would be required to undergo a complete invasion of his/her own privacy prior to any subsequent investigation of the unwilling participant, I doubt that they would agree to that invasion of personal privacy. These tactics are designed to intimidate individuals into compliance.

As the digital world becomes a greater presence in our daily lives the implied right of privacy that undergirds most if not all of our Constitutional liberties is fast becoming extinct. The fear that I have is that government could exploit a Constitutional loophole in that they can demand personal information from third party corporations, who willingly oblige to avoid retaliatory regulation or litigation.

To fully participate in our society efficiently we must also participate in private activities that require us to provide personal data that can be tracked, monitored, aggregated, disaggregated, and correlated for marketing purposes. We grant this information without thought so we can use the service offered. When we do, we grant a property right to our personal data that at present cannot be rescinded. We do not have the right to be advised of a government inquiry into our online activities nor do we have the ability to demand a warrant prior to the inquiry. Because corporations bear little consequence of compliance with a government’s subpoena duce tecum – with no risk of prosecution relating to the data retrieved, and can incur high costs to prevent governmental intrusion into our activities, there is little economic reason for the corporation to protect us from such an intrusion.

Thus the questions become, is it ethical for government officials to employ strategies to obtain non-public information from others who would not otherwise freely share such information to anyone, that the government could not Constitutionally obtain in any other manner? Should there also be a requirement on corporations, such that individuals who give private information to use a provided service should be afforded the opportunity to check a box on the privacy statement to deny government access to the information without the government first presenting a statement of probable cause to an impartial magistrate who grants the warrant prior to any search of data?

5 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunce: Columbia, South Carolina Police Chief Ruben Santiago”

  1. While I am equally concerned (perhaps more so) as you, I have basically give up.

    The supreme court says that it is perfectly legal to collect and store data and then, should law enforcement find it useful, get a warrant to sift through your data. They have also said that you have expectation to privacy regarding your metadata for phone calls because you share it with a third party – the phone company.

    We’re doomed. Best use of your time and treasure is to prepare to rise up against the State.

  2. “I liked this post, and not many people read it or commented on it.”

    Jack, I’ve noticed most commenters here don’t comment when they agree. You’ll generally see this on obvious situations or your ethics hero comments.

  3. “As the digital world becomes a greater presence in our daily lives the implied right of privacy that undergirds most if not all of our Constitutional liberties is fast becoming extinct.”

    The rights to privacy is not fast becoming extinct. The right always has and always will exist. What is going extinct is individual American’s religiously guarding that right and selfishly maintaining their privacy as sacred, for all the reasons you listed. The internet and social media has made it too easy to reveal any private detail and an anti-anti-social attitude has vilified anyone who wishes to be a private person. Market forces you referred to do not help either.

    The right to privacy will always exist, how does one accommodate that right into the modern age? You hinted at it: an implied right to privacy means that, even if you surrender some personal data to a corporation, the assumption should be that you obviously surrendered only to that corporation for that one transaction. The burden should rest then on the corporation to seek your permission to continue using that data, and the burden rests on the government to obtain a warrant to obtain that data.

    I don’t see any other way that continues to sanctify individual privacy. It certainly touches on a topic I find distasteful in the book “Super Crunchers” that would enable relatively counter-free market behavior by corporate giants, especially those inextricably tied to the government.

    But, like all of our rights, they will only be protected as long as we care enough to defend them. But we don’t. I wouldn’t doubt that a terrifying percentage of people would sign away their 1st – 10th amendment rights for a free iPad.

  4. Sometimes I feel a little like a Luddite to limit the forms of my interaction, when I am online. It’s a bit of a nuisance to keep accounts separate, my professional associates don’t need to know my taste in movies or books. But the trend became clear when I was exposed to the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the mid-90s.

    Too many think like the famous and infamous, that there’s no such thing as any need for privacy. Those I really don’t get.

    One pundit said that Google and Facebook just don’t pay him enough for his data so he’s keeping it. But it is hard.

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