Virginians' privacy is in jeopardy – from cell phone tracking, to automatic license plate readers, to drone surveillance, the Commonwealth now has the capacity to track our movements, monitor our conversations, and map our friends and political affiliations. That’s why last Saturday we joined forces with the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation and the Virginia Commonwealth University Religious Studies Program to host a privacy summit. The takeaway is clear – there is broad consensus to reign in the surveillance state!
We broke up the summit into three parts:
- What the government can do – It transcends all levels of government – from Edward Snowden’s revelations at the federal level to numerous NoVa law enforcement departments deciding to track Virginians’ movements. Our government has the capacity to predict our movements, perhaps even better than we do ourselves. What information can the Commonwealth actually gather? Can this technology be used for good? These were the questions discussed during this panel.
- What the government should do – Virginia’s democratic process requires a government that is transparent and accountable to the people. Yet, as the Commonwealth’s surveillance capacity expands, our ability to ensure a democratic process shrinks. As we know from history, unchecked government spying will almost certainly be abused for political ends. Bottom line—in a democracy, we should know more about the government than the government knows about us. What can we do to reign in the surveillance state? This was the question discussed during this panel.
- What the law is –In 1986, there was no World Wide Web and nobody carried a cell phone, yet that is the year that Congress passed the statute that provides some protection for our electronic life. Federal courts are moving slowly to fill the void left by Congress – to ensure a 21st century Fourth Amendment. At the state level, there are gaps in Virginia law that enable the government too much leeway when it comes to collecting, storing, and accessing our most personal, private information. While the recent Supreme Court decisions on GPS tracking and cell phone searches are encouraging, Virginians shouldn’t have to wait for federal courts to better define our 21st Century privacy rights. What are the limits of the Fourth Amendment? What gaps exist in Virginia law? What should 21stcentury privacy look like? These were the questions discussed during this panel.
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