Privacy & Technology
“The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”
—U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in Riley v. California (2014)
Technological innovation has outpaced our privacy protections. As a result, our digital footprint can be tracked by the government and corporations in ways that were once unthinkable.
This digital footprint is constantly growing, containing more and more data about the most intimate aspects of our lives. This includes our communications, whereabouts, online searches, purchases, and even our bodies. When the government has easy access to this information, we lose more than just privacy and control over our information. Free speech, security, and equality suffer as well.
The ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project fights in the courts, lobbies on Capitol Hill, and works with technology companies to ensure that civil liberties are protected as technology advances. We are working to secure a warrant requirement for law enforcement access to electronic information, to chip away at the government’s excessive secrecy surrounding its surveillance practices, to promote the proliferation of privacy-protective technologies, and more.
Americans should not have to choose between using new technologies and protecting their civil liberties. We work to ensure a future in which the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches extends to digital property and your data is your own.
What You Need To Know
- 1986The federal law protecting your electronic information was passed in 1986, making it older than the World Wide Web.
- Fourth AmendmentThe government argues that the Fourth Amendment protects information that you keep in your desk, but not information that you keep online, like old emails or pictures.
- National Security AgencyIn order to carry out mass surveillance, the NSA has weakened the security of the communications systems that we all rely on.
With more and more of our lives moving online, intrusions by governments and corporations have devastating implications for our right to privacy. But more than just privacy is threatened when everything we say, everywhere we go, and everyone we associate with are fair game.
Law enforcement is taking advantage of outdated privacy laws to track Americans like never before. New technologies can record your every movement, revealing detailed information about how you choose to live your life. Without the right protections in place, the government can gain access to this information—and your private life—with disturbing ease.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects all people within the United States from unreasonable stops and searches. While federal authorities enjoy broader powers at ports of entry, this power is not unlimited. However, the government has repeatedly developed programs—increasingly involving new technologies—that subject travelers to unreasonable stops and searches at the border, violating the basic tenets of our Constitution.
Medical and genetic information can reveal some of the most personal and private data about us, and maintaining control over that information is crucial. As medical records are increasingly digitized and genetic sequencing becomes faster and cheaper, threats to our privacy and autonomy intensify.
All too often, the deployment of new technologies happens faster than our social, political, educational, or legal systems can react, producing a "land rush" in which companies and government agencies deploy new privacy-invasive technologies before subjects are aware that they exist—and certainly before we have consented to their use through our democratic political system.
In recent decades, the private sector has learned that personal information is a valuable commodity, giving companies a strong incentive to collect as much data as they can about all of us. In the absence of regulatory restrictions, this trend will only intensify, which threatens to create new opportunities for corporate manipulation and control of individuals, to accentuate the advantages and disadvantages experienced by different groups, and to generally shift power from individuals to powerful companies.
Many of the basic rights we take for granted are not protected when we go to work. The ACLU continues to fight for employee privacy by challenging how those rights are violated by employers through workplace surveillance, unwarranted drug testing, and "lifestyle discrimination."
For several decades now, proposals to establish a national identification system have periodically arisen. Although they take various forms, including a uniform driver’s license system and the E-Verify national employment database, all suffer from the same flaws: They would be ineffective, would provide a new avenue for racial and ethnic profiling, and would create a system of internal passports that would imperil privacy and civil liberties.
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- Legal DocumentJanuary 19, 2022
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- CaseDecember 7, 2021