360 Degree Surveillance: How Police Use Public-Private Partnerships to Spy on Americans, by John and Nisha Whitehead

The public-private partnerships muck up the legal waters, which is exactly what the police want. From John and Nisha Whitehead at rutherford.org:

We live in a surveillance state founded on a partnership between government and the technology industry.”— Law Professor Avidan Y. Cover

In this age of ubiquitous surveillance, there are no private lives: everything is public.

Surveillance cameras mounted on utility poles, traffic lights, businesses, and homes. License plate readers. Ring doorbells. GPS devices. Dash cameras. Drones. Store security cameras. Geofencing and geotracking. FitBits. Alexa. Internet-connected devices.

There are roughly one billion surveillance cameras worldwide and that number continues to grow, thanks to their wholehearted adoption by governments (especially law enforcement and military agencies), businesses, and individual consumers.

With every new surveillance device we welcome into our lives, the government gains yet another toehold into our private worlds.

Indeed, empowered by advances in surveillance technology and emboldened by rapidly expanding public-private partnerships between law enforcement, the Intelligence Community, and the private sector, police have become particularly adept at sidestepping the Fourth Amendment.

As law professor Avidan Y. Cover explains:

A key feature of the surveillance state is the cooperative relationship between the private sector and the government. The private sector’s role is vital to the surveillance both practically and legally. The private sector, of course, provides the infrastructure and tools for the surveillance… The private sector is also critical to the surveillance state’s legality. Under the third-party doctrine, the Fourth Amendment is not implicated when the government acquires information that people provide to corporations, because they voluntarily provide their information to another entity and assume the risk that the entity will disclose the information to the government. Therefore, people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their calling data, or potentially even their emails. As a result, the government does not normally need a warrant to obtain information transmitted electronically. But the Fourth Amendment is not only a source of protection for individual privacy; it also limits government excess and abuse through challenges by the people. The third-party doctrine removes this vital and populist check on government overreach.

Critical to this end run around the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents is a pass play that allows police to avoid public transparency requirements (open bids, public meetings, installation protocols) by having private companies and individuals do the upfront heavy lifting, leaving police to harvest the intel on the back end.

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