Rosen examines Constitution’s place in today’s privacy debate



Jeffrey Rosen works in constitutional heaven.

The CEO and president of the National Constitution Center lives out what he called his life’s passion, discussing and moderating dialogue on modern constitutional arguments. Rosen will speak at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, beginning this week’s morning lecture series on “The Ethics of Privacy.”

In his lecture, Rosen will focus on the constitutional ramifications of the proliferation of technology and subsequent increasing surveillance — a subject he has written on extensively as head of legal affairs for The New Republic and in his several books.

“I want to have a conversation that gives people a broad sense of the way that our social stations are being transformed by technology in the 21st century, why privacy matters and what can we do about it?” Rosen said.

According to Rosen, analyzing the Constitution’s place in the modern world will take interpretation to face the issues currently confronting the United States.

“This question of how to translate a constitution in the 18th century to take the challenge of 21st-century technology is vitally important, civically challenging and intellectually really engaging,” Rosen said.

Approaching the lecture from a constitutional — as opposed to a policy-based — perspective allows the audience to make its own decisions about the validity of arguments, Rosen said.

This non-partisan balance is at the heart of the National Constitution Center’s mission.

“It’s the only institution in America that is chartered by Congress to disseminate information about the U.S. Constitution on a non-partisan basis,” Rosen said. “We don’t debate policy issues, and we’re not interested in figuring out whether gun control or the right to choose is a good or bad thing as a policy matter.”

However, the journalist and trained legal commentator does hold a strong perspective on the right to privacy and growing surveillance by “faithless strangers.”

He said he believes public opposition will expand as technology becomes omnipresent with cheap recording devices and even cheaper data storage capacities.

“It’s a common refrain that technology is ubiquitous and people are comfortable with exposing details about themselves that would have been unthinkable years ago, so we should just assume we’re being watched 24/7,” he said.

This attitude is not in line with many constitutional arguments against unwarranted searches and seizures — though some surveillance, especially in public spaces, has been ruled an exception to the Fourth Amendment.

“If people experience what it’s actually like to live in the panopticon, where everything they do is accessible to others without ability to control it, I think people will demand privacy,” Rosen said. “The possibility of 24/7 tracking in public places becomes real — and that is a form of transparency that citizens are not going to want to tolerate.”

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