Tackling Government Surveillance in the 21st Century

Friday, December 10, 2010

As an attorney who graduated from both Gonzaga (J.D.) and the University of Washington (LL.M.), I recently joined the ACLU-WA staff as a government surveillance fellow.  I’d like to introduce myself and let you know why I care about the impact of technology on civil liberties.

I worked in the wireless industry selling mobile devices and service for nearly five years (2000-04, 2006).  During that time, I witnessed first-hand the change in technology in cell phones, moving from simple calling devices to the intricate mobile computers they are today complete with Internet access, video recording, and other multimedia functionality.  I can vividly recall when mobile devices equipped with cameras entered the market in 2002.  At first, many people were unwilling to adopt these devices—scoffing at the idea of “camera phones.”  Now, you would be hard-pressed to find someone without a smartphone.  See e.g., http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/02/the-u-s-smartphone-race-grows/?ref=technology (last visited December 2, 2010).

In this day and age of Facebook, YouTube, and reality TV, it seems that our society has become more desensitized to privacy.  After all, people can regularly find pictures and videos of themselves posted hours after an event.  But that doesn’t mean that people are comfortable with the government watching.  And sadly, some government agencies here in Washington and elsewhere have set up fake social networking accounts to gather information about political activists.  See e.g., http://www.cbsnews.com/news/uncle-sam-wants-to-friend-you/ (last visited December 10, 2010).

My work at the ACLU of Washington will focus on government surveillance of individuals and organizations who are engaged in constitutionally protected activities. I aim at helping to raise public awareness of state and local government spying. And more importantly, I hope to help curb government monitoring of lawful political activities.   I’ll be working with my colleagues at the ACLU-WA to gain passage of legislation to control the collection, storing, and sharing of information about people’s political views and activities.

I look forward to sharing some of my thoughts and work on government surveillance with you in future posts on the ACLU-WA blog.