Apparently, George Orwell foretold the future when he wrote “1984.” This time, however, the role of Big Brother is not played by one powerful person, but by the entire New York Police Department.
A recent inquiry under the state’s Freedom of Information Law showed that the NYPD has been compulsively tracking cellphones between 2008 and 2015, which has been made possible by a software known as Stingrays.
According to The Huffington Post, Stingrays are a cell tower simulator, meaning phones can attach to it to make a phone call, send a text or even connect to the Internet. Obviously, the main purpose of this device is grasping secret and private information — whenever a cellphone connects to a tower-simulator, the device is able to download any information, from contacts to phone calls to location.
Of course, it is a useful and powerful system when used to track down criminals or suspects, but when it comes to innocent people, it is just a means to break down privacy boundaries unlawfully and unfairly.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, believes the NYPD has had a bad reputation in the past, and this new surveilling incident is not going to help.
“Considering the NYPD’s troubling history of surveilling innocent people, it must at the very least establish strict privacy policies and obtain warrants prior to using intrusive equipment like Stingrays that can track people’s cell phones,” Lieberman said in a statement Thursday.
The question that’s up in the air is: Does the NYPD actually protect New York City citizens or does it just protect itself?
Spying on private matters without permission is undoubtedly against the law. However, the police are in charge of making sure their citizens respect the law. This vicious circle is created every time boundaries are not designated clearly and properly. It does not take too much of an effort to establish the occasions and the restrictions into which the NYPD and the CIA would be permitted to use Stingrays or any other sort of cellphone tracker. For example, hunted criminals or dangerous suspects should be at the top of the list, followed by people involved in the crime or situations that are being analyzed.
Nobody wants their personal information printed on a piece of paper in the police department. Nobody wants some strangers to know the precise day they called their grandma to wish her a happy birthday. Some may say, “Well, they’re strangers, so they won’t care about your pictures or your texts.” Yes, but if we assume that this is true, it means that one’s right to privacy fades away.
Rights need and have to be preserved, with the necessary restrictions that the law accounts for. My right to privacy can be taken away if I break the law and the police have to hunt me down, but it cannot be dissolved just because they don’t know me, so don’t worry. As righteous and virtuous citizens make an effort in order not to break the law and to follow its principles, the NYPD should too, as apparently the law must be equal for all.