The End of Privacy?

We as citizens are guaranteed certain basic rights and freedoms, the most important of which is our right to privacy -- the right to be free from governmental intrusion. Yet, as we sit passively and watch the Government operate without our input, our most cherished of freedoms is being eroded. Attacks on our freedom continue, but few know what is happening and even less care.

The erosion of our right to privacy came first with attacks on the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Our Constitution provides that we as citizens shall be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and that persons may only be arrested with warrants based upon probable cause. The reality is that most, if not all, of our rights under the 4th Amendment are now gone.

Did you realize that if the police believe you are about to commit a crime, you will be detained for questioning? Once detained, you must answer the officer's questions as to who you are and what you are doing in that place. If you refuse to answer these questions, you will be arrested by the police for either obstruction or some sort of resisting. You may also be detained by police based on a mere anonymous tip. You will be detained, and you will answer basic questions -- all without the presence of a warrant.

Are you aware police may break down the door to your house if they believe illegal activities are taking place inside, regardless if they have a warrant or not?

Or how about the fact that after you are arrested, police are permitted to strip search you to make sure there are no weapons or contraband on you.

Not only do police have the authority to search your body, they may also search the immediate area wherein you were arrested. These immediate areas often turn into entire households, as police are permitted to conduct protective sweeps to ensure against security risks. Naturally, anything found in plain sight during these sweeps is subject to confiscation. And all without the requirement of a warrant. Where is your zone of privacy now? No longer is a "man's home his castle."

Courts have carved out an enormous exception to the constitutional requirement of a warrant before arrest and search. Where "exigent circumstances" exist and it is impractical to obtain a warrant, no warrant is required. Incredible as it may seem, all police must demonstrate in order to legally uphold their conduct is that an emergency situation existed, or that if they took the time to seek a warrant, the person or thing to be searched would be gone by the time they returned. Clever people can create these factors out of most every event in our daily lives. If the "exigent circumstances" are present, Courts say no need for a warrant.

A major example is the search of your automobile. Because it is capable of being moved, the Courts advise police there is no need to secure a warrant before searching its contents. Police may search anywhere in your car based merely upon a suspicion there may be something illegal inside. The law also permits police to set up roadblocks, under the guise of safety checks, to facilitate these searches. We've already discussed the consequences to you in you fail to answer questions directed to you by the police at roadblock. Not only does the Government's arm extend into our houses, but it now sits besides you as a passenger in your privately-owned motor vehicle.

While on the subject of passengers, the Supreme Court recently ruled when police stop your vehicle, not only may they search the driver and car without a warrant, now they may pat down and search all passengers as well. This search is designed to protect police. While the protection of law enforcement officers is essential, the pat down search of elderly women, children, and handicapped persons is excessive. You are responsible for anything in the car, including any contraband possessed by your passengers. Point of fact, anyone in the car may be held responsible for the contraband of another. I urge you to study current drug possession laws before giving any future rides to strangers.

Items in "plain view" are also permitted to be seized without a warrant. Plain view not only includes sight, but smell, hearing, touch, and taste as well. What this means is any contraband visible in your backyard is seizeable. Any unusual noises coming from your house could create an "exigent" circumstance where police could break down your door to gain access without a warrant. And once inside, their search could extend to the entire premises.

Similarly, the majority of jurisdictions in the United States permit law enforcement to use thermal imaging devices to surveil persons' houses in order to detect unusual heat sources. These courts determined the use of these machines, usually in helicopters as police fly over your property, is not an unconstitutional invasion of your right to privacy. If courts permit these heat seeking devices today, how long before law enforcement will be permitted to use movement sensors, electronic monitoring devices, and x-ray detective machines so long as they are not employed directly from a person's property?

In 1997, matters will become worse!

Florida Senate Bill 1002e1, section 23, makes it a violation of the Florida Traffic laws to drive without your seat belt. Under the previous law, this was a secondary violation chargeable only after you were stopped for a primary traffic violation. Starting in July 1997, police can stop you solely for the offense of not wearing your seat belt. If they ticket you for this offense, they may also pat you down, search your vehicle, and all your passengers -- without ever getting a warrant. While we clamor for more ways for the Government to protect us, we part with more and more individual freedom.

The Fourth Amendment is so diluted by exceptions that most all of its intended protections are nowadays nothing more than historical footnotes. Curiously, few people hold strong opinions either way as to the loss of these rights. All the more troubling is the adverse impact this has on your right to privacy. Is there anyplace where you are truly free from governmental intrusion? Florida specifically chose to create a right of privacy for its citizens giving heightened protections and priorities than those enjoyed under the United States Constitution. Under Florida's Constitution, "every natural person has the right to be left alone and free from governmental intrusions into his private life . . ."

It is difficult to reconcile this privacy right to current search and seizure laws, as well as thermal imaging court cases and the proposed seat belt legislation. However, the real disintegration of personal privacy will come in the form of governmental programs designed to "assist and make safe" its citizens. This insidious attack is well underway.

Massive numbers of regulations and laws enforced by an all-powerful bureaucracy were characteristics of Naziism and Communism, as well as totalitarian and dictatorial governments in today's political sphere.

The United States, and her states, pass tens of thousands of new laws annually. Most of these new laws carry both criminal and civil penalties for violations. To implement these new laws, tens of thousands of new administrative regulations are drafted by hundreds of governmental agencies, such as the IRS, FBI, DEA, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and others like OSHA, HUD, Securities Exchange Commission, Federal Communications Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency, not to mention Florida's legislature and its state agencies. As a citizen, you are responsible for all these laws or risk defined penalties. Incredibly, a situation is created whereby you are almost certain to be doing something illegal and you don't even realize it. Sound ridiculous? Then answer these simple questions:

  1. Do you drive with a seat belt fastened?
  2. Do you wear a helmet when you bicycle?
  3. Are you developing your private property, and if so, have you checked to see if the Government has classified it as a "wetland?"
  4. As an employer, are you maintaining the proper compensation insurance for your employees?
  5. Have you made proper annual reports to the IRS?
  6. If you are under 21, do you smoke or drink?
  7. Have you inquired to see if any of your child-raising methods are considered "abuse?"

Has the United States become an unmanageable bureaucracy? Is history repeating itself?

During World War II, the United States was shocked at how German citizens were treated. Citizens were required to carry identification papers on their person at all times and be prepared to present their papers to authorities upon demand -- at border checkpoints, train and bus stations, airports, roadblocks, and even to purchase articles such as food and clothing. This identification requirement was later adopted by the Communists as a means of tracking its people. The lack of computerization demanded as much. Today, is it different?

Early 1997, all employers received notice from the Department of Justice announcing the creation of an Employment Authorization Card (EAD-Form 1-766). This credit card-looking piece of identification is required to be carried by all aliens who are authorized to temporarily work in the United States. It includes a picture of the recipient, a fingerprint, and a bar coding and magnetic strip upon which the Department of Justice places pertinent information about the alien. Inserted into a requester, the card instantly reveals the alien's personal information and employment history to the reader. The Employment Authorization Card is designed to be the uniform method for determining employment eligibility.

The creation of this card raises the question that if aliens need an employment card to work, will United States citizens be required to carry a similar identification card? The majority of Americans carry either a driver's license, Social Security card, and/or Government Employee Card. Is it possible that our Government will create a National Identification Card to "consolidate" these numerous other forms of identification? With the emergence of the INS card (EAD-Form 1-766) is the revelation the Government may extend the use of this card to all Americans. This single, nationally recognized, tamper resistant card will include your photograph, social security number, fingerprints, and bar code to verify your employment eligibility. This card, encoded and updated periodically by the Government, will link to a nationwide Government database "to solve the problem of illegal aliens taking American jobs." Is this possible? Until a few years ago, Form 1-766 was a pipedream.

Based upon current trends in Washington, I expect a second major card to be a national health care card. While the Clinton administration failed miserably to reach a national consensus for a uniform health care plan, Republican and Democrats continually cry for such a policy. Naturally, with a socialized medical program in place, a national form of identification will be created to ensure proper recipients. With similar medical care cards such as Medicare/Medicaid and health insurance provider cards like Blue Cross/Blue Shield already firmly entrenched, the creation of such a national identification card is readily feasible. This ID card will maintain government-accessible records of all aspects of your health care, including details of doctor's visits, prescriptions, and hospital treatments. Presumably, with the creation of the National Health Board, an 18 digit identification number will be assigned to all Americans to establish proper tracking in a nationwide databank system. When a national health care bill passes, you will be required by law to use this national identification card in order to receive medical services in America.

A third card, developed through the United States Postal Service, will most likely emerge as America's new national ID card, incorporating all the functions of the INS and medical card, along with more features. The Postal Service was directed by the Department of Defense to develop a people monitoring electronic card. Recently, a general purpose U.S. Services Smart Card was unveiled, modeled after the MARC card already partially implemented by the Department of Defense.

The MARC card (Multi-Technology Automated Reader Card) is currently carried by select U.S. Military personnel. This card uses a magnetic strip, including a digital photograph, and an integrated circuit computer chip. It is designed to store personal, medical, and legal information, to include family and personnel data, education and employment history, police records, and religious, as well as political, background. The most important aspect of the MARC system is its ability to instantly track cardholders worldwide, as the carrier is unable to buy meals at military installations, purchase goods and services at base exchanges or receive medical care at a military treatment facility without the card.

The Postal Services Smart Card will have similar capabilities and could be automatically connected to the Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Treasury, IRS, Veteran's Administration, and other agencies such as the FBI, DEA, ATF, and CIA. A proposed future link would tie it to the banking system and to a central databank. The Postal Service has acknowledged it is prepared to place more than 100 million of these cards into circulation within months of the administration's approval. What this means is a national identification card is poised to be issued without congressional approval, but rather through a series of presidential executive orders.

Preposterous you say? Open your pocketbooks and/or wallets and count the number of identification cards you have. Next, count the number of credit cards you have. For each card you possess, you are currently being tracked by that card's namesake. Do you own an ATM card? Do you get cash from ATM machines? Each time you get money from the machine, your location is confirmed. Do you purchase items with credit cards and checks? In an instant, your whereabouts are known to the credit institution, as well as your current purchasing power to the merchant. Has becoming a cashless society eroded our privacy?

And what of the news of a new kind of driver's license currently in development in England. The card is personalized to the licensed driver as well as to the driver's vehicle. In order to start the ignition of the vehicle, the vehicle's owner's card must be inserted. The card is also linked to the Division of Motor Vehicles' database. Should the driver's license be suspended, or outstanding warrants for his arrest exist, the car will not operate. Should a non-owner of the vehicle attempt to use a different card, the card is immediately confiscated by the system and law enforcement alerted. Advocates trumpet this technology as a means to curtail car theft and to keep drunk drivers and non-licensed drivers off the road. Is this a welcome "safety" innovation, or another means by which the Government may intrude into our personal lives?

Where will it all end? Is the national ID card the next step to an implanted biochip? What we once thought to be fiction is now reality as tiny transponders are presently implanted into pets and livestock all across America as a means of computerized identification and location of a lost or stolen animal. Strange, how all this technology designed to be helpful limits our privacy options. And how close are we to being required to hold a particular identifying mark in order to conduct our personal transactions? Ridiculous? Have you been to the Disney theme parks lately? To gain admittance, patrons must present an identification card and place their right hand in a scanner in order to enter.

We live in a society today where information is the most precious commodity, and where our lives are directly affected by the use of computers. Computers were designed to assist the workplace, but now it appears computers direct the workplace. We applaud each new innovation of computer technology, believing the greater ease with which information may be collected and subsequently disseminated, the better for society. However, immense information-sharing technologies has a dark side -- a further intrusion into personal privacy.

America is rapidly becoming a surveillance society, coveting people-controlling, people-monitoring high technology systems. Evidence of this fascination with technology is as close as your computers, cellular phones, fax machines, and the Internet all of which are susceptible to electronic monitoring.

The Attorney General Janet Reno vigorously lobbied that to stop terrorism and organized crime, the American people must give up some of their personal freedoms and privacy. One of the proposed methods for "attacking terrorism," is clipper chip surveillance. The proposal is for the installation of a federal clipper chip in phones, computers, fax machines, and other electronic devices in order to monitor illegal activity. But in the course of such surveillance, legitimate phone conversations, credit card purchases, bank transactions, and all other private telecommunications would also be scrutinized. The Wall Street Journal in July 1994 wrote: "The potential for government manipulation and intimidation of the citizenry is enormous."

The guaranteed right to privacy is systematically eroded by "knee jerk" reactions to temporal events. Once a freedom is curtailed, it will never again enjoy its full parameters. As Patrick Henry eloquently proclaimed , "It is easier to give freedoms to be later restricted, than it is to secure freedoms already lost."

The right of privacy so deliberately provided by our forefathers is nearly extinct. A mere remnant survives, and without your involvement, it may all perish. I challenge you to become involved in your government. Pay attention to events and developments as they affect the community, nation, and the world. Become an "activist" for truth and change in these end times.

Nowhere is evidence that activism works more obvious than the recent controversy over the Social Security Administration's Web Page at Through this website, users gained access to over 140 million Americans' confidential financial records. To access these records, all that was needed was a person's name, date and place of birth, social security number, and mother's maiden name. The potential for abuse from creditors, adverse litigation parties, private investigators, and law enforcement was tremendous. However, once media revealed the Government's website, things changed. ABC News reported the story on April 7, 1997. Previously, the Social Security website received no more than 3,000 inquiries a day. After the news story, the public outcry was so intense that more than 85,000 inquiries were received on the website in less than 24 hours. Public opinion was so negative that Congress called for the immediate suspension of the website until additional privacy safeguards can be studied and implanted. Two days after the story broke, the Social Security Administration suspended operations on the Internet website. The voice of an otherwise slumbering nation was heard. Involvement counts! Apathy, on the other hand, may destroy us.

There are those who scoff at such opinions discounting them as "Chicken Little" rants. Yet, you will find most detractors hold man-created positions of authority and stand to lose the most when foretold events occur.

Pray for America, and hold fast to remaining precious freedoms. Should we completely lose our privacy, take heed that we were forewarned by James Madison. "I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." The struggle is now. What will you do?

As reprinted in National Daughters of American Revolution Magazine, May 1998