Orwell, Jones and the New York Times:
Conversations Shaping the Fundamental Rights of Privacy
The conversations among Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four, the US Supreme Court decision in United States v. Jones, and the New York Times compellingly illustrate the ways “law feeds and is fed by the world around it,” as Judge Guido Calabresi once put it. A suspected drug dealer, Antoine Jones was convicted and sentenced to life in prison at trial, but the case was overturned on appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court had to decide whether using a GPS tracking unit on the suspect’s vehicle violated Jones’ constitutional rights. Both lawyers and judges spoke often about whether this surveillance technique brought the U.S. closer to a state akin to the one in Nineteen Eight-Four. The New York Times covered this story, adding media sensationalism to the events. This article explores the legal development of privacy and surveillance at a specific historical moment, as it relates to both Orwell’s text, and the media at the nexus of privacy. One of the main issues was whether a U.S. citizen might reasonably expect a GPS tracking unit to trace their every movement, and exactly where that reasonable expectation of privacy ends. We see that technology has far outstripped even what Orwell envisioned in his dystopian masterpiece, and that only conscious resistance and legal protection can reverse what has often and ironically become a “voluntary” surrendering of the right to privacy.
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