Do We Have Right to Privacy Outside Our Homes?

The government has said that police should be allowed to secretly put GPS devices on our cars, but we have already given up more privacy than we realize, Patricia J. Williams writes in her column at the Nation.

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The Department of Justice has told the Supreme Court that police should be allowed to secretly place GPS devices on our cars, Patricia J. Williams writes in her column at the Nation, but we have already relinquished more rights to privacy than we realize.

When attorney and feminist blogger Jill Filipovic landed at Newark Airport in October, her checked bags had been opened and scrutinized by the Transportation Security Administration. Later that evening when she unpacked, she found the requisite TSA slip acknowledging the search inside her suitcase. It’s unsettling enough to find such a note under the best of circumstances. Most of us do not tuck our dainties, toiletries, computer discs and diaries into our luggage with the thought that an unseen stranger will lay hands on it all and maybe pass untoward judgment. If we do think about it, most of us try to rationalize it as a necessary evil; and we minimize it by imagining a mechanistic bureaucrat, a stern and steely sort, having no emotions beyond a gimlet eye for weaponry.

Anonymous searches like these are nevertheless -- by their nature -- very intimate interactions. Filipovic discovered this firsthand when the Oz-like mask of the imagined automaton was torn off in the most uncomfortable way. She had packed what she later described as a “discreet miniature vibrator” in her suitcase. The vibrator apparently gave the TSA agent quite a chuckle, for he scrawled a handwritten note across the form: “Get your freak on, girl!” Not surprisingly, when the incident went public, a firestorm of protest forced the TSA to take steps to fire the agent. The search of Filipovic’s suitcase was carried out by a real human being -- who is no doubt suffering some remorse -- not by our imagined soulless machine.

Read Patricia J. Williams' entire blog entry at the Nation.

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