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December 23, 2013 2:17 PM Story of the Day: Serwer on Sotomayor

By Ryan Cooper

A week ago a federal judge ruled that the NSA dragnet surveillance program of Americans’ phone records was probably unconstitutional, which will almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court soon, and two days later the presidents own commission recommended the programs be sharply scaled back. Today, Adam Serwer is out with a splendid piece explaining Sonia Sotomayor’s role in preparing the field for these developments.

Here’s a taste:

It was Sotomayor’s lonely concurrence in U.S. v Jones, a case involving warrantless use of a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car, that the George W. Bush-appointed Judge Richard Leon relied on when he ruled that the program was likely unconstitutional last week. It was that same concurrence the White House appointed review board on surveillance policy cited when it concluded government surveillance should be scaled back.
“It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties,” Sotomayor wrote in 2012. “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”
Not a single other member of the high court signed onto Sotomayor’s concurrence; her three Democratic appointed colleagues sided with a narrower one written by Justice Samuel Alito. Though all nine justices agreed that police would likely need to get a warrant to place a GPS device on a suspect’s car, it was Sotomayor who was willing to argue that modern technology had essentially changed the meaning of what privacy means when so much of our personal information and history is preserved online, and can be easily collected by the government in mass quantities. When the Framers of the Constitution wrote of “persons, houses, papers, and effects,” they could not have imagined cloud storage or cell phone location tracking.

Read the whole thing.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

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