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Home > Privacy and Government > Government Threats to Privacy > Surveillance > Electronic Footprints

Electronic Footprints

As electronic devices are incorporated into our lives more and more, they give governments more and more opportunities for monitoring and surveillance.

Particularly in the area of transportation, electronic devices such as the "E-ZPass" on Northeast toll roads and Northern Virginia's "Smart Tag" put government officials in a position to monitor the movements of citizens.

There are many appropriate uses that government may make of this information to investigate crime, for example and many activities occuring on public roadways can not be legitimately called "private." But systematic tracking of 'public' activities can amount to an intrusion into what citizens reasonably expect to be their private lives. Electronic devices that leave anything other than anonymous footprints put government in a position of invading privacy.

Many of these same items put private businesses in a position to collect personal information as well. The threat of privacy invasions by governments is far more real, though, because private businesses can be sued and may suffer many other adverse consequences if they misuse the information that they collect. This key difference makes governments the true threat to privacy in the area of electronic footprints.


'Big Brother' Could Soon Ride Along in the Back Seat by Alan Sipress, Washington Post (October 8, 2000)

Proposed Rule: National Capital Region Parks; Photo Radar Speed Enforcement, National Park Service, Department of the Interior (September 1, 2000)

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[updated 04/17/02]

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