Here’s Looking at You, Kid
by Doug Hornig
Lovers of liberty have seemingly had a good bit to celebrate over the past two weeks.
First, there was an unprecedented outpouring of negative public sentiment about the Congressional bills SOPA (House) and PIPA (Senate); they are legislation that would have thrown a large governmental monkey wrench into the relatively smooth-running cogs of the Internet. Millions of Americans signed online petitions against the bills (I did) after seeing websites’ various protests. Google shrouded its search page in black; Wikipedia, and Reddit went dark entirely (although Wikipedia could be accessed if one read the information available via clicking the sole link on its protest page); Facebook and Twitter urged users to contact their representatives; and many other core Internet businesses also raised their voices in opposition.
Such was the outpouring of dissent that even Washington, D.C. had to listen. The bills, which a week earlier had seem assured of swift passage, suddenly turned to poison. Supporters, forced to concede that the public really was pissed off this time, fled. Leadership in both houses tabled the legislation, pending further review and revision.
But before we get too self-congratulatory, however, it’s wise to note that this victory dish is probably best enjoyed with a serving of caution. As Casey Extraordinary Technology editor Alex Daley summed up the situation for us here at Casey Research: “Be sure this will come back again, likely post-election, and snuck through as part of a bigger package. It arrests power from the judiciary, and the legislature likes nothing more than to thumb its nose at those ridiculous judges and all their due process this and Constitution that. It will eventually pass, just not like this.” We can’t now go to sleep on this one.
Second, on Monday the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that police may not attach a GPS tracking device to a suspect’s car without a search warrant. This is a landmark decision, to be sure, but one that was carefully circumscribed by the justices. The placing of the device constituted a physical intrusion on the suspect, they wrote, and thus was impermissible. Left unruled upon was the larger question of tracking someone’s movements when there was no physical violation, as would be the case when, say, police access signals from a GPS-enabled smartphone. Though it wasn’t directly addressed, the concurring opinions strongly suggest that the justices might be more sharply divided on that issue.