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Signs of the Times | Kestrel's Aerie

Signs of the Times | Kestrel's Aerie

Signs of the Times

It’s just after 8 a.m. on Thursday morning. My wife and I are waiting for the appliance repairman to come and swap out the motherboard in our GE refrigerator. I am trying to decide if I’m annoyed. He just called to say he’d be a few minutes late, and apologized that he had a few things delay him in the shop. That’s not the source of my possible annoyance: I’ve nothing pressing today, and the coffee’s good this morning.

No; what is bothering me is that I’m not sure whether I should be happy that we can swap the mobo instead of the fridge, or sad that every damned thing we own (it seems) has an electronic brain. I understand convenience, and it’s nice that various sections of the chill-chest’s innards can be kept at different temperatures and humidity. I appreciate that when we come home from the supermarket at 3 p.m. on a hot August day, we can toss a bunch of stuff in the fridge and hit the TurboCool button to amp up the compressor.

The irony lies in the fact that one of the supposed benefits of all these electronics inside formerly mundane appliances is to save wear and tear on those parts most prone to failure due to wear and tear. However, when the electronics fail—as in the case of our refrigerator motherboard—it’s not uncommon for a relay to try to cycle on and off repeatedly, causing more wear and tear on the mechanical parts. We were fortunate that our compressor did not burn out, but the repairman told us of similar cases where a faulty relay did lead to compressor failure.1

And another thing…

You’re probably aware that Saudi Arabia, India, and other countries have taken Research In Motion (RIM, the company that manufactures Blackberry smartphones) to task to provide them access to the secure communications and data those devices provide. The intent is to prevent or alleviate their use for illegal and terrorist activities within their respective countries. This week, India is going so far as to petition Google and Skype to give the government access to those systems for the same purposes.

On the one hand, I can certainly understand the concern of governments that considerable clandestine or illegal activity can take place over wireless networks, which are secured by their operators for privacy reasons. However, I can also appreciate the concern of users of those services, whose supposition of privacy is now in question.

Yesterday, I read a short article that discussed “…a federal magistrate judge [who] recently rejected the governments’ [sic] request for historical cell site data from Sprint, because the government failed to show probable cause (as required under the 4th Amendment)…” This, in spite of the fact the same judge (and others) had previously allowed similar requests.

The 4th Amendment’s due process and probable cause provisions are the same clauses that govern wiretapping. And to me, it makes perfect sense that I should have the same expectation of privacy with my Internet or cell phone communications that I have with my wired telephone communications. However, technology is moving considerably faster than the legal system’s ability to integrate that change into the application of law.

It is highly probable the Supreme Court of the United States will soon decide to hear arguments in a case along these lines. It’s a bit alarming that something that seems so commonsensical to you and me, should have to be decided by the Supreme Court. (At least, I’m presuming that most of my readers believe that we have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our Internet and wireless communications, and that law enforcement should have to show probable cause to have access to those communications.)

The overarching issue, it appears to me, is that we have a lot of round pegs, a lot of round holes, and a lot of people who are willing—eager, even—to argue that some of those pegs are square, and shouldn’t be pushed into those round holes.

The times, they are a-changin’…

  1. Just so there’s no misunderstanding, a failed compressor in a refrigerator is a Big Deal; when it fails, you have nothing more than an insulated box.

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