***HONORABLE MENTION*** 2015 Nissenbaum Internet Law Scholarship Essay – SARA A. SIWIECKI (Chapman University- Anticipated Graduation Date: 2018)

How Can The American Legal System Improve Its Approach To Policing And Regulating Digital Technology Without Unduly Stifling Innovation And Civil Liberties?

A person is staring at you from outside your bedroom window. When people do this, we usually call the police and report a stalking incident. A different situation: A person is not staring at you directly from your bedroom window, but from a security camera at the building across the street, or maybe even the camera on your laptop, or the camera on your Xbox or PlayStation gaming system. This is just as scary as the person physically standing outside your window. However, the government is the person stalking you. It would not make sense to call the police on this one because the police are connected to the government. So, what do we do? The government has access to all of our calls, texts, emails, and even cameras in certain situations. Is this ethical? Who knows. Meanwhile, you are also terrified of a bomb being dropped on top of your house or someone coming to your town and shooting thousands of people. So, the government solves this problem by monitoring our digital technological devices in attempt to find information about planned attacks and prevent them from happening. No one likes to feel constantly monitored, but everyone wants to feel safe and secure, here lies the problem with digital technology. This problem can be somewhat fixed by improving the use of drones, Internet laws, and number of cameras and ridding of the tracking and storage of information without warrants.

One way that the government monitors its citizens is with the use of drones. Instead of using up lots of time and money to send people up in a helicopter on surveillance missions, search and rescue missions, and other activities, drones are more efficient because they do not need people to physically be in the craft and are able to fly faster than a helicopter. However, drone utilization can be abused when the government uses them without warrants and retains information that violates privacy liberties. Drones should not be used without warrants or without any probable cause. Flying drones around randomly is not an efficient use of technology. Drones also should not capture and retain unnecessary information that has nothing to do with crimes. They should not retain pictures or conversations without search warrants or other good reason because that is invading people’s privacy and inefficient for the government because they can get this information from conversations elsewhere, like phone calls or the Internet. The government can improve upon this regulation of digital technology by setting clear guidelines as to when drones need to be used and retain the information they capture in order to protect people’s civil liberties and improve upon efficiency of the legal system. Drones should be used with purpose and not for overbearing worry.

Another surveillance tactic that the government uses is the monitoring of the Internet. The Internet is used by basically everyone nowadays and people are willing to document their whole lives on the Internet in applications such as: Facebook, Instragram, and Twitter. Specifically on social media, many things that are said and done would not be acceptable in face-to-face life. The government should make what I like to call “Internet laws” that say what people can and cannot do/say on the Internet. Currently, there are some laws like this called “Netiquette”, but they are not very circulated on the Internet and few know about these etiquette rules. Threats are made online that go unnoticed and lots of bullying happens on the Internet that would not be tolerated if it were said out loud. While the government and police do take Internet threats seriously, there should be clear laws about what is and is not allowed, like how in real life people cannot shout “bomb” in an airport or “fire” in a crowded room, or pose as people they are not, such as a police officer or government official. If laws were laid out clearly, then the government could do a better job at tracking key words to catch people committing crimes and deter people from posting inappropriate things online, while not invading everyone’s privacy.  This could prevent many crimes from happening, including human trafficking, online prostitution, and imposters. These Internet laws can be implemented on TV public service commercials and ads on the Internet. Also, in terms and conditions of certain websites, it should be made clear that by going online, a person is submitting himself/herself to be monitored by the government so that everyone knows they are being tracked. The Internet is a useful tool for many, a tool of proactivity and entertainment, but also a tool that should be taken seriously.

Lastly, the government can improve on its use of cameras. If there are more cameras placed in high-violence areas, then it might deter many from committing crimes in that area and it would allow more evidence for crimes that are committed. While this might seem that it brings more of the “stalking” I referred to earlier and violates many civil liberties since we would literally be constantly watched, as long as there are postings of camera surveillance so the public is aware of it, it would actually be violating less liberties. If there are more cameras outside in public, then less private information, like texts, calls, and emails would need to be monitored because the government would have sufficient evidence from cameras to convict people of crimes and would have no real need to monitor private information. More cameras would prevent crime, provide more evidence for crimes that happen, and protect people’s personal information.

One thing that the government can completely rid of to protect people’s civil liberties and improve the efficiency and reputation of the government is the constant tracking of private information without warrants. The government can continue to monitor public information, like what people post on public social media pages, but abstain from viewing people’s private information, like texts, calls, and emails, unless they have a search warrant or other plausible reason. The police are not allowed to just open anyone’s mailbox at any time and read their mail, so they should not be able to monitor and store people’s information online. Also, the government should not have constant access to people’s personal medical files or other incredibly personal data that a person may not want shared. Only information collected after a warrant should be monitored constantly. The warrant allows the government to go back and retrieve the evidence they want, rather than constantly monitoring everyone all of the time. To be efficient and not stifle innovation, the government should only track and store information from people who have committed crimes previously or who are suspicious and have probable cause to track and store information has been established. People deserve to have their liberties respected in a country that was founded upon personal freedom.

To improve the status of the American legal system without defacing civil liberties and averting innovation, the government needs to use drones efficiently, establish clear Internet laws, create zones of high camera surveillance, and abstain from storing people’s personal information without probable cause.  America was founded on freedom and this freedom should be protected at all times. However, living in a safe country is as important as being free. All in all, it is nearly impossible to have a safer security system without sacrificing liberties. While some liberties may be sacrificed, innovation can be the way to find ways to make bigger and better technology that protects citizens yet allows for freedoms so that all will benefit. Perhaps someday we can even invent this technology that finds a way to protect everyone’s personal information by making that information only available to robots that protect America’s security. The future of innovation is imminent.