Heritage Foundation Hosts “Big Data & Big Brother” Talk on Privacy


By Gaeun Jeon

The Heritage Foundation in downtown Washington, D.C. hosted a “Big Data & Big Brother” talk on Friday about privacy and Fourth Amendment rights, consisting of three panelists who spoke about a variety of topics regarding governmental power over individual privacy.

Charles Cully Stimson, a senior legal fellow and manager with the National Security Law Program, hosted the talk alongside three panelists: Jamil Jaffer, Arif Alikhan and Klon Kitchen. Jaffer is the Founder and Executive Director for the National Security Institute, Arif Alikhan is the Director of Constitutional Policing and Policy under the Los Angeles Police Department and Klon Kitchen is the Senior Research Fellow for the Heritage Foundation.

The talk started by focusing on an individual’s rights of privacy that are openly expressed in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Jamil pointed out that under the Constitution “individuals should be free to contract” with a company and it is a “role and ability of the government” to ask companies to turn in those pieces of information for lawful investigations. Klon worried that with technology rapidly advancing, individuals might “not be fully aware of the contract” and how much companies and government know about us suggesting a notion of metadata, a typical example of information not protected under the Fourth Amendment. Arif agreed that there is “no consistent standard to the public’s expectation of privacy”.

As the discussion continued, they also talked about the implications of the Supreme Court’s Carpenter decision, which the federal court put an exception to the Third Party Doctrine; the government can go for the data that was voluntarily given to the third party without a warrant. 

In the middle of the talk, one female audience got emotionally stimulated and cut into the conversation to a point the security and the host had to ask her to stop. As the privacy right issues contain sensitive real-life concerns, debates surrounding interpretation and execution of the fourth amendment seems important. One of the audience Adrienne Yeh, a student at American University, addressed that she was intrigued by the topic as it deals with issues that directly relate to our everyday lives. She added that she was glad the panelists had different opinions regarding big data that she could reflect on her views on the matter. 

In the end, the talk moved away from the consumer privacy concern and related the issue more broadly to national security. All three panelists agreed upon the idea that stakes could be higher when it comes to foreign threats in today’s increasingly networked environment.

No hearings are currently scheduled to follow up on the conversation of privacy and the Fourth Amendment. Streaming and podcasts of Friday’s talk are available on the Heritage Foundation’s website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *