Ashkan Soltani, a privacy and security researcher who has been working with the Washington Post on the Snowden files, has published a graphic that illustrates how technology has greatly reduced the barriers to performing surveillance.
Soltani included the graph in a paper published in the Yale Law Journal that explores how this situation erodes Americans’ privacy protections under the Fourth Amendment and what can be done to protect them.
The cost comparison involves the several location surveillance techniques of physical pursuit by foot and in vehicles, location tracking using a radio beeper, a GPS device, or a cell phone.
A few examples for understanding the chart:
- Tracking a suspect using a GPS device is 28 times cheaper than assigning officers to follow him.
- Tracking a suspect using cell phone data is 53 times cheaper than physical covert pursuit.
- Tracking a cell phone is twice as cheap as using a GPS device.
In a blog post, Solanti explains what this means going forward:
“If technical and financial barriers previously provided some protection from large-scale surveillance by the government, these implicit protections have been essentially eliminated by the low costs of new surveillance technology. Once the cost approaches zero, we will be left with only outdated laws as the limiting function.”
The paper aims to contribute the specific cost data to the conversation of “how the Fourth Amendment’s protections can and should be applied to balance out the rapid technology-based expansion of the government’s power to collect information about its citizens.”
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