The Public and the Private at the United States Border with Cyberspace

Privacy and Security and Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing

Article Snapshot


John Palfrey


78 Mississippi Law Journal 241, 2008


This paper looks at privacy rights involving data collected by communications firms.

Policy Relevance

People are not aware of how much data is collected by private firms and shared with the government, and privacy rights need to be updated.

Main Points

  • In the United States, surveillance of the Internet comes under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).  It is not known exactly how much network surveillance is used in the United States. Examples of other nations with recent ventures into extensive network surveillance are found in Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan.
  • Nations including the United States can access massive flows of Internet communications flowing through Autonomous Systems (AS), large Internet Service Providers through which almost all traffic is routed.
  • Private firms including Google, marketing companies, wrongdoers using malware, and others collect massive amounts of data about consumers online.
  • Courts have not interpreted the Fourth Amendment of the United States constitution to give citizens much protection from private firms such as Internet Service Providers.
    • Going forward, courts should recognize citizens’ efforts to keep data private.
    • The law should help citizens ask that their account data be deleted.
    • Government could be restricted from buying data from private firms.

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