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I Spy: The New Self-Cybersurveillance and the “Internet of Things”


Steven I. Friedland


January 6, 2016

Prior to the digital age, surveillance generally meant a government agent or private investigator engaged in a stakeout or observation detail that involved physical work, expense, and time. The digital age changed surveillance fundamentally. Today, we not only generate mountains of data for others, we also effectively surveil ourselves through digitally-connected, multifunctional smart devices, collectively described as the “Internet of Things.”

Cybersurveillance accessed by the government, even when started as self-surveillance, raises complex and uncertain legal issues, especially when related to the Constitution. In United States v. Kyllo, the Supreme Court was reticent to allow government agents to use technology that went through the walls of homes, spying on people within without a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. Current technologies allow the police to do that and more, especially when all of the data is pieced together and analyzed in a personal mosaic. The implications are profound. Is there anything left of the public/private distinction? Does the invisibility of data transfer undermine the separation of powers and the ability to effectively check and balance the Executive branch’s spying operations? This paper examines the constitutional implications of the Internet of Things, arguing that unless models of consent and privacy are changed, outdated legal rules will fail to protect the individual from the state in fundamental ways.