In My Own Words: Secret technology


I know an issue is complex when I find myself agreeing with both sides. I’m referring to an article in the local secular paper about U.S. police using a secret technology, originally developed for the military, that allows them to track suspects by the signals emitted by their cell phones – even if they aren’t making a call or sending a text.
Law enforcement officials say the device helps them locate criminals because they can track the suspect and learn information about his/her surroundings. The article notes that suspects apprehended using the device have committed murder, assault, robbery, rape and kidnapping. The police have been doing this without a warrant, which is part of the problem. Law enforcement officials believe the information they receive from the phones do not come under the privacy guidelines that require them to have a warrant.
While civil liberties advocates admit that the device has helped the police, they say it goes too far, particularly when used without a warrant. They question who is using the device and how they are using it, and believe clear rules need to be established. Some want to make certain that it’s used in appropriate ways – that is, with a warrant – although others want to ban the devices entirely.
Looking at the larger picture offers some other issues to consider, including what happens if the device falls into the hands of someone other than law enforcement. Think of what a dictator could do to control his/her enemies if they had the device. Corporations could also abuse the device to increase their profits or to ruin a competitor. 
Turning to Jewish law to find an answer was not completely helpful. Judaism recognizes the right for privacy; for example, the doorway of your house is not supposed to be positioned so that you can see into someone else’s home. You’re not allowed to look into other people’s windows or enter their homes without their permission. Yet, when it comes to the protection of the community, Jewish law is far more lenient. The good of the group can be considered more important than the rights of any particular individual. This idea is considered especially relevant when fighting terrorism, although where the line between community safety and the right to privacy should be drawn is still under debate.
Fortunately, our court system and our legislators are looking for answers to some of these questions and problems. As technology continues to evolve, we’ll continue to face difficult decisions about privacy issues, and the rights of governments versus those of individuals. We can only hope a reasonable balance will be found.