Clearspeak: Big Brother is watching you

— There are a lot of fine reasons to live in Cazenovia. An important one, for many residents, is privacy, a luxury in this day and age.

Hidden behind a scrim a trees, we can be as sociable — or not — as we please. Neighbors who share our values and respect our rights guarantee our precious privacy.

In our beautiful town, Big Brother is not watching you.

Or is he? He was watching Antoine Jones, a night club owner in Washington, D.C.

Not via the giant telescreens set up everywhere in George Orwell’s “1984,” but by means of satellites and a GPS device the government surreptitiously attached to his car without a warrant.

The GPS device allowed police to track Jones’ movements around the clock for a month – evidence later used to convict him of conspiring to sell cocaine. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Nearly every judge who has wrestled with the facts of “United States v. Jones,” or cases like it, has invoked Orwell and Big Brother.

Judge Diane P. Wood of the federal appeals court in Chicago wrote that surveillance using GPS devices would “make the system George Orwell depicted in his famous novel ‘1984’ seem clumsy.” In a similar case, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the federal appeals court in San Francisco wrote that “1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last.”

The challenge to the courts is to address whether in the digital age revolutionary changes in technology require changes to traditional judicial interpretation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment — the section of the Bill of Rights that forbids excessive government invasions of privacy.

The Jones case poses the question of whether the intensive and extended round-the-clock monitoring the space-age tracking devices allow is legally different from the conventional surveillance police routinely engage in — such as staking out suspects and tailing their cars.

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