Sunday, November 11, 2018

From farms to cities to The cloud--"the internet of things"

We take time to pay tribute to our active and former service members this Veterans Day for their honor, courage, commitment, and sacrifice over the past century to defend the ideals of democracy and freedom on which America was founded more than 240 years ago.

It’s veracious to say that during those 240 years we, as a nation, have evolved dramatically in how we live—from farms, to cities, and now on the internet. But the speed at which we have evolved in the age of the internet cannot be understated, as FarhadManjoos’s piece, A Future Where Everything Becomes a Computer is as Creepy as You Feared, makes readily clear. It was only 40 years ago that Gates and Allen “founded Microsoft with a vision for putting a personal computer on every desk.” And the industry’s goal today, Manjoos recognizes, is not “a computer on every desk nor a connection between every person, but something grander: a computer inside everything, connecting everyone. Cars, door locks, contact lenses, clothes, toasters, refrigerators, industrial robots, fish tanks, sex toys, light bulbs, toothbrushes, motorcycle helmets.” 

Importantly, the ideals of democracy and freedom for which our service members have valiantly and selflessly defended, do not end in this digital age, which the Supreme Court has repeatedly reminded us. (See e.g., Riley v. California (2014), and United States v. Carpenter (2018) for a couple recent examples.)

photography of clouds and forest treesBut “the internet of things”—or technological advancements leading to more and more “smart” toys—necessarily means that more information that exposes extraordinarily sensitive details about us (far more so than a search of our home even could) will end up in that proverbial “cloud.” And while “cloud storage” sounds metaphysical, we know that such storage is quite physical: it resides on identifiable, physical computers in brick-and-mortar datacenters, which users’ own electronic devices access remotely when used by their respective devices and accounts. 

To be certain, though, the speed at which the tech giants can hurl these smart toys into our atmosphere cannot countermand our civil rights and liberties. It is our duty to be vigilant, to spot these issues of potential infringement on our constitutional rights and civil liberties early, and to raise them.

In that vein, for those not yet familiar with Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), you should be. It is one of the leading nonprofit organizations defending civil liberties in the digital world, providing indispensable leadership on cutting-edge issues of free expression, privacy, and human rights. In 2017 the organization filed 59 amicus briefs on issues surrounding civil liberties and technology (among many other things, including bringing a groundbreaking lawsuit challenging invasive border searches of electronic devices), as discussed in EFF’s recently released annual report, found here.

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