Privacy laws in the United States need an upgrade. Rapid advances in cell phones and computers are outstripping the ability of old laws to protect our personal lives.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide whether police need a search warrant before they look at text messages and other information on cell phones of people they have arrested or detained.
That’s unfortunate. This is an area of the law that needs careful re-examination, and it needs to be done on the national level because we carry our phones with us from state to state.
Cell phones, along with laptops and tablet computers, can contain our life stories. Someone with your cellphone can read your past text messages, no matter how personal the content is. The phone can reveal whom you have called, who your contacts are, what your finances are like, what’s on your personal calendar, photos of your friends and all of your recent email and voice mail.
That’s information many of us would be less than eager to place in the hands of authorities — or any other strangers.
The case the Supreme Court declined to take came out of California, where police found incriminating evidence in a text message after they searched the phone of a man suspected of taking part in a drug deal. The California Supreme Court applied a rule that allows police without a warrant to examine items found on a person who is detained or arrested.
That rule works for a pack of cigarettes. But not for a smartphone.
Prompt, warrantless searches do have a proper place in the law. Police need them to make sure detainees aren’t carrying weapons or destroying evidence.
But expanding that law to include mass-storage devices opens the door to troubling scenarios.
The Supreme Court needs to step in and resolve this issue.
Chicago Sun-Times (Oct. 11)
The message is obvious
As the Occupy Wall Street protests spread from Lower Manhattan to Washington and other cities, the chattering classes keep complaining that the marchers lack a clear message and specific policy prescriptions. The message — and the solutions — should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention since the economy went into a recession that continues to sock the middle class while the rich have recovered and prospered. The problem is that no one in Washington has been listening.
At this point, protest is the message: income inequality is grinding down that middle class, increasing the ranks of the poor, and threatening to create a permanent underclass of able, willing but jobless people. On one level, the protesters, most of them young, are giving voice to a generation of lost opportunity.
The protests, though, are more than a youth uprising. The protesters’ own problems are only one illustration of the ways in which the economy is not working for most Americans. They are exactly right when they say that the financial sector, with regulators and elected officials in collusion, inflated and profited from a credit bubble that burst, costing millions of Americans their jobs, incomes, savings and home equity. As the bad times have endured, Americans have also lost their belief in redress and recovery.
It is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation. That’s the job of the nation’s leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies. Because they have not, the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself. It is also the first line of defense against a return to the Wall Street ways that plunged the nation into an economic crisis from which it has yet to emerge.
The New York Times (Oct.12)
Phasing out nuclear in Japan
The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), Japan’s largest labor organization, in its Oct. 4-5 convention decided to pursue a society that will eventually stop relying on nuclear power. This is a departure from its earlier policy of pushing building of new nuclear power plants. Within Rengo, power company unions that support the promotion of nuclear power are a strong force.
Rengo’s leadership should be praised for correctly understanding the severity of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and responding to the public’s strong call for phasing out nuclear power.
Rengo President Nobuaki Koga told the convention that the Fukushima crisis has made the leadership realize that when an accident happens at a nuclear power plant, it causes enormous damage. Since Rengo is the biggest supporter of the Democratic Party of Japan, it is hoped that its decision will positively affect the DPJ and the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
In order to reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear power, Rengo has proposed securing alternative energy sources that can replace nuclear power, aggressively promoting renewable energy sources and pushing energy-saving measures. As a short-term measure to secure a sufficient supply of energy, Rengo has accepted restarting nuclear power plants currently out of operation on the condition that the government strengthens and verifies their safety and that local people accept their restart.
To realize a non-nuclear society, Rengo should work out a road map that identifies a target year when all the nation’s nuclear power plants would permanently cease operations and submit it to the government.
Japan Times, Tokyo (Oct. 12)