I think we’re alone, for now, unless Supreme Court rules cell phone searches OK

Tommy James and the Shondells (Wikimedia Commons)
Tommy James and the Shondells (Wikimedia Commons)

“I think we’re alone now/There doesn’t seem to be anyone around.”

You probably already have the tune in your head. It’s a 60s song that sounds like a 50s song that became an 80s hit because…the idea behind it is timeless. When young lovers finally get to steal a moment alone, magic happens.  You can almost feel the childish giggle from every singer who’s ever covered the tune. And there’s been a lot of covers, because the idea is universal. You are almost certainly remembering right now a moment when you finally got to a secret space with someone special  for the first time and the ….creative?….possibilities arose in your imagination.

House ad 450wPeople do different things when they think they’re alone. And thank God for that.

But this isn’t a column about sex. It’s a column about privacy.  It’s about the Supreme Court’s monumental discussion this week about cell phone privacy.  The Supremes will be deciding whether cops can rifle through your smartphone without a search warrant, and I’m really concerned they might get it wrong.  The New York Times can take you through the legal arguments, such as they are.  I just don’t think there’s much to debate.

Those of us who care about privacy often have a very hard time expressing to people why corporate and government invasions of privacy are troublesome.  I’ve heard the phrase “I have nothing to hide, so why should I care,” more than I care to.  So prvacy wonks (data huggers? Thanks Marc Rotenberg) conjure up nightmare scenarios, like the department of PreCrime in the Minority Report, but they somehow fall flat, or sound unrealistic (even if they aren’t).

So today I’m turning to Tommy James and the Shondells instead.  That giddy feeling people have when they are alone is not unique to teenagers stealing a kiss. We all have it.  In every culture, humans seek privacy when they have sex.  More important, they seek privacy for all kinds of intimacy AND creativity.  As technology continues to connect us, it also continues to expose us. We risk losing the feeling that we think we’re alone forever.  That’s  quite a chilling effect.

Here’s a song I don’t want to sing: “I think we’re not alone now. There does seem to be someone else around…the NSA, or Google, or a police officer. Nah, we’d better not make out. Or write that controversial poem. Or say something to a friend that might some day be misconstrued as subversive or dangerous.”

People express all kinds of crazy things on the smartphones. Combined with cloud-based tools like Dropbox, cell phones can literally give a police officer access to every last detail of someone’s life.  Phones are a private space, and to some a sacred space.  We can’t let police officers access so much of our lives without so much as a court-ordered search warrant. To require any less would be folly, would be a terrible reading of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and I worry would make the sone “I Think We’re Alone Now” sound like gibberish to future generations.

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About Bob Sullivan 1451 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.