The past decade witnessed explosive adoption of web-connected devices known collectively as the “Internet of Things,” giving rise to an unprecedented generation of personal data and the mining of that data for commercial purposes. This has and challenged notions of individual privacy in the age of Big Data. The next decade, however, will see us adopt a range of technologies that will enhance human senses and shake the foundation of the traditional concept of what constitutes a “reasonable zone of privacy.”
Traditional laws protect people inside their homes from unwanted surveillance and newer laws have begun to recognize that technologies, such as the Internet and photography, can be used for harassment and stalking. Washington’s “Revenge Porn” law is one example. But we need to do far more to protect individuals from unwanted snooping—even in public spaces--whether their smartphone has been bugged without their consent or whether a “Peeping Tom” is tracking them. Laws that arose in the 18th Century did not anticipate the enhancement of human senses. Our challenge is not to stop progress, but to allow sensible adoption of new technologies that don’t threaten personal freedoms. Putting some rules of the road in place before these technologies take off, may even set the table for more widespread consumer trust and adoption.
Although it is sometimes tempting, we should not surrender to this new tech wave and cease to expect zones of personal privacy, even in public spaces. Privacy advocates have already sounded the alarm. Legal scholars are laying the foundation for new rules of the road. Now it will be up to an educated public and their elected representatives to say that while we recognize the benefits of new technologies, they can’t be used by anyone for any purpose, especially when our intimate rights are threatened.