Recently, we bought our granddaughter a smart television for Christmas.  We went over with her options and she chose a Toshiba model through Amazon.  It is loaded with Alexa.

We joked about Alexa spying on her.  She says she accepts the fact that the government knows where she is.  And, she says that she is confident that devices like smart phones and Echo Dot listen and feed information to the company they work for all of the time.  (After all, Amazon sells the Echo and Echo Dot at a loss in order to make it easier for you to buy from them.)

To make her point our granddaughter told me that she was on her smartphone with a friend discussing some future purchase and an advertisement for a similar product popped up on the tablet she had been working on.

It turns out that the devices listen all of the time; not just when you ask for something or give them a command. 

The government does know where our granddaughter lives, but who told them?  It seems that locating the Echo (or any of the similar devices sold by Google, Samsung, and other companies) by GPS is integral to the workings of the device.

Where does paranoia end and valid concern begin?

When one of the members of our U/U Fellowship found out that we had security cameras in place during that were on during the service, and that the service was recorded, she became very agitated.  She was somewhat appeased when we told her that the security cameras were actually for the members benefit since we are a liberal church attended by a large proportion of gay and lesbian couples (like her and her wife) and that we record the services for “shut-ins”.  She said we should have told her before they joined.  I suppose that I might feel the same if I had spent most of my life “hiding in a closet”.

We have an Echo.  It plays music on command, provides the local weather forecast, gives the Reuters’ daily news brief when asked and makes it easy to buy from Amazon.  I asked it, “Alexa, who else is listening in?”  She answered, “I’m not sure I understand your question.”  She is a little more impersonal than Siri.  Siri would have replied, “I’m not sure I understand your question….Rodney.”  Or she might have been much more entertaining.  When asked what she was wearing Siri replied. “People have an unusual interest in my wardrobe….Rodney.”  Those Apple guys and gals are constantly upgrading Siri.

I’m not bothered by having Alexa in the home.  Maybe I should be.  I’m just not a conspiracy theorist.  I know that the Echo is a marketing tool.  I understood that on the front end.  It may, also, be just one of the tools that the NSA or Homeland Security uses to monitor all of us.

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Comment by Rodney Roe on December 5, 2018 at 6:12am

According to this discussion of the law and guarantees of the right to individual privacy, protections are based on common law, constitutional guarantees under the 4th, 5th and 14th amendments, and by enacted law.

My question to experts in the law is, to what extent does Anglo-American common law apply?  How is it applied?

For example, does the understanding that, "a man's home is his castle" provide for privacy?  Or is that just a common understanding that is the basis for enacted law?

It often seems that attempts to rule on the constitutionality of law involves some fairly tortured interpretations of the meanings of, and extrapolation of those meanings, to find a way to apply them to today's reality.  Setting aside the argument as to whether unlawful search and seizure applies only to governmental overreach versus invasion by business, founders in the 1700s could not have imagined Alexa or Siri.  The result is that we have to apply wording about "papers and personal effects" to questions concerning electronic surveillance.

Comment by Tom Cordle on December 5, 2018 at 10:48am

Ron, you probably missed part of my comment above, to wit:

On this uber-corporate-friendly Court – a Court that has already ruled that corporations are people, they're most likely arguing that invasion of privacy only applies to the government and that corporations are free to do anything they wish to real persons in the privacy of their homes – and anywhere else for that matter.

Comment by Tom Cordle on December 5, 2018 at 12:14pm

Comment by Tom Cordle just nowDelete Comment

Rodney, methinks we should stop treating the Constitution, and for that matter the Bible, as if they are sacred and infallible. The Founders understood quite well that they couldn't anticipate all that might transpire in the future. That is why they deliberately created a document that was relatively short and made it subject to both interpretation and amendment.

So what does that leave us with? For starters, I'd say the responsibility to use common sense. Problem is, common sense is pretty uncommon, that sad truth explains why five Justices ruled corporations are people and money is speech. The Founders to a man would have found that notion abhorrent and would have been repelled by such a ruling.

Comment by Rodney Roe on December 6, 2018 at 4:40am

Tom, I quite agree.  Like the Bible, those who refer to the Constitution like a sacred text cherry pick the text that agrees with their point of view and ignore others.

"Common sense" is a loaded term now.  For Trumpsters it means believing what you believe without any knowledge to back it up; indeed, despite anything you know. 

The whole concept of corporations as "persons" is filled with inconsistencies.  If Mitt Romney buys a company, dissolves it and then takes all of the assets is he guilty of murder?  Is he guilty of cannibalism?  Is it legal for people to own "persons" or parts of persona?

I've seen it explained that corporations aren't people in those respects; only in respect to speech.  Nonsense.  "Common sense" tells me that that is B.S.

Comment by Ron Powell on December 6, 2018 at 3:05pm

In 1990 the Supreme Court declared that; "The Michigan Campaign Finance Act, which prohibited corporations from using treasury money to support or oppose candidates in elections, did not violate the First or the Fourteenth Amendment."

"Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990), is a United States corporate law case of the Supreme Court of the United States holding that the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, which prohibited corporations from using treasury money to make independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates in elections, did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court upheld the restriction on corporate speech, stating, "Corporate wealth can unfairly influence elections"; however, the Michigan law still allowed the corporation to make such expenditures from a segregated fund."


In 2010 the Supreme Court ruling in "Citizens United" overturned the "common sense" Austin ruling...

Comment by Rodney Roe on December 6, 2018 at 7:26pm

Given the makeup of the Supreme Court it will be a long time before common sense again prevails.

I read to day of a case headed to the Supreme Court involving a parole violation that caused both the State of Alabama, and the United States to sentence the felon to prison sentences.  The appeal is based on a violation of the "double jeopardy" clause in the 5th Amendment.  If the defendant prevails this will give Trump an argument to pardon individuals convicted in State Courts, apparently.  In the past the state and federal jurisdictions have been regarded as "separate principalities" and therefore able to each impose sentences.  Whatcha bet the court decides for the defendant?


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