Expert Worries About Tech’s Threat to Privacy

Human Rights Lawyer Invited to Make Presentation for National Library Week

Apr. 7, 2010

Surveillance, social networking and targeted behavioral marketing all put privacy under attack as never before, said Chip Pitts, an international privacy advocate and human rights lawyer who will speak at UT Dallas in a free public presentation April 12.

Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, will talk about “Privacy and Technology: Protecting Autonomy in a Transparent World” as a part of the National Library Week celebration at UT Dallas’ McDermott Library. The talk is at 10:30 a.m. in the Conference Center.

Pitt is a lecturer in law at Stanford Law School and Oxford University, a Professorial Fellow at the Southern Methodist University Law Institute of the Americas, the former chairman of Amnesty International USA, former chief legal officer of Nokia, Inc. and founding executive of technology companies in Austin and Silicon Valley.

He recently responded to questions dealing with topics he will address during the UT Dallas presentation.

What are examples of dangerous technological intrusions into our lives?

“We are getting to the point in history, with powerful, miniaturized surveillance cameras and other storage devices and databases, where our lives are continuously surveilled in secret and the data is copied, stored, shared and used with few constraints. The resulting power and control raises unprecedented risks of true totalitarianism even beyond anything in Orwell’s 1984. This is happening beneath the radar screen and conscious awareness of most citizens, with the assumption that ‘it can’t happen here’ and that the technologies are simply benign or inevitable, without much that ordinary citizens can do about them.”

How do those methods violate our basic freedoms?

“People sometimes forget that our nation was born largely out of reaction to privacy invasions (customs collections by inspectors bursting into colonists’ homes, inspections of private correspondence and safeboxes, etc.) by King George III’s agents, directly catalyzing the events that led to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. … Without the freedom to gather information in the absence of government censorship – or surveillance that leads to self-censorship – basic Fourth Amendment liberties of privacy in ‘persons, houses, papers, and effects’ will be violated.”

Would you describe your message as a liberal mantra?

“The truth is that privacy and other fundamental human rights transcend ‘conservative’ or ‘progressive’ ideologies and are the mark of open, prosperous, safe, secure, and successful societies. This presentation will be nonpartisan and should appeal to attendees ranging from Tea Party supporters to progressives, as well as readers, librarians, business people and the general public.”

How do you assess privacy concerns when it comes to libraries?

“Although librarians may seem to be unlikely Patrick Henrys, they have been among the staunchest defenders of privacy and related liberties since 9/11. Their professional oath and standards rightly guarantee patron privacy, for without that people will self-censor and the nation will suffer from the resulting lack of intellectual stimulation, innovation, democratic self-government, security and progress. Librarians have courageously stood up against government agents coming even after hours to demand records unconstitutionally.”

Is there benefit in some surveillance methods to thwart terrorism?

“Absolutely.  Not only is there nothing wrong with surveillance methods that meet constitutional standards, but such surveillance is essential, i.e., methods that are reasonable, fact-based (as contemplated by the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause requirement), and independently checked (as required by the warrant requirement). The problem arises when surveillance methods are dragnet, unchecked, and out of step with the common sense requirements of our fundamental law — the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

You are adamant about challenging the issuance of so-called “reasonable” warrants without probable cause. Is this a fuzzy area?

“There’s nothing fuzzy about it; the text of the Bill of Rights could not be clearer:  “No warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.’ ”


Media Contact: Karah Hosek, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4329, karah.hosek@utdallas.edu
or Tom Koch, McDermott Library, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4951, tkoch@utdallas.edu
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Chip Pitts Chip Pitts’ talk is titled, “Privacy and Technology: Protecting Autonomy in a Transparent World.”


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