Technology leads to ‘surveillance society’

ASU law professor Gary Marchant thinks 2010 may be the new “1984.”

Marchant underlined the relationships between technology, privacy and law, and theorized on today’s society subsiding into a “surveillance society” in a presentation Tuesday at Armstrong Hall in Tempe.

“There are self-fulfilling aspects of it,” Marchant said. “If you have lower expectations of privacy, the less you are constitutionally protected.”

Many of the technologies Marchant explained were related to global positioning system devices and their implementation in cars and cell phones.

There are cutting-edge technologies implemented in new vehicles based on GPS, Marchant said, including sensors in select California parking lots that can direct the user’s vehicle to the nearest open parking spot.

As for GPS in cell phones, Marchant highlighted the highs and lows between technology and privacy.

Location-based services can provide users with directions, restaurant guides, and even distance and speed while jogging, he said.

On the other side, cell phone use raises several privacy claims.

“For all of those in this room with a phone, your location is being tracked,” he said.

Marchant said in documents released by wireless provider Sprint last year, the company released 8 million “pings,” which collect latitude and longitude data from a user’s phone, to police agencies across the nation.

If law enforcement agencies wanted to obtain the phone records of a user, Marchant said many courts don’t require a warrant to gain access to the information.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that some sort of formal process is needed to be able to obtain phone records, but it may not need to be a warrant, he said.

Law enforcement is also taking advantage of other progressing technology in the realm of GPS.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that if police stick a GPS unit to the underside of a person’s car in the car owner’s driveway, there is no requirement for a warrant or probable cause because the owner had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her driveway, Marchant said.

The Los Angeles Police Department is also testing a “GPS projectile,” he said, which allows police vehicles to effectively shoot a small missile that sticks a GPS unit on a person’s car to track his or her movements.

Aside from law enforcement, there are still concerns over GPS services in cell phones, Marchant said.

A new website called Loopt allows users to visualize where other friends with GPS cell phones are around the world.

“You can program in friends and know where they are at all times, who’s staying at who’s house, and that can get interesting,” Marchant said. “Most people as they get older would think it’s kind of creepy, but teenagers love it.”

Businesses are also taking advantage of progressing technologies, Marchant said.

Companies are using GPS in employees’ vehicles to track what the workers are doing on the clock, he said.

It definitely has increased efficiency, Marchant said, but it does create a lot of pressure on workers.

“If you stop to get a coffee or soda, and the line to the cashier is too long, you start getting worried,” he said.

Marchant noted that several people have linked the progression in GPS technology with the concept of panopticism, in which “you don’t know if you’re being watched, but you could be.”

“At any time, you have to be concerned that you’re being watched,” he said. “If you’re not doing anything wrong it’s OK, but still, it’s a little creepy.”

Several law students in attendance said they were fascinated by Marchant’s presentation.

“The more we feel that we’re exposed, the less privacy we actually have, and it’s an argument that’s kind of concerning,” said second-year law student Jacob Jones. “I definitely think it’s important that we’re aware of these issues and how to react.”

Third-year law student Nick Barton said although technology can be beneficial in the realm of law, privacy concerns still weigh in the balance.

“We have better ways to track the events that are happening in the world … we know what happened in the course of events of the issues we’re trying to resolve,” Barton said. “We’re definitely going to give up some privacy because so much efficiency occurs, but how much? I don’t know.”

At the end of his presentation, Marchant allowed questions from law students and onlookers, asking, “Questions, comments or paranoid rants?”

Reach the reporter at mhendley@asu.edu