Over the past several decades, advances in technology have impacted various aspects of society, ranging from economic growth to heath care and the arts. These developments are significant when viewed on a global scale, but the growing role of technology in society is, perhaps, more noticeable in individuals’ personal lives and day-to-day interactions. While the percentage of people with internet access and smartphone use is higher in developed countries, computer and cell phone ownership is prevalent across the world. In 2017, a majority of Americans own a smartphone, have broadband internet access, and use social media. Additionally, other personal devices, like tablet computers, have increased in popularity. The proliferation of technology in daily life is, however, not unique to American culture; other countries around the world, faced with the pervasive influence of technology, are experiencing the same social and legal impacts.
Widespread, continuous access to the internet allows users to share information at any hour of the day, from almost any location. This data takes many forms: text messaging and third-party messaging apps, social media posts and photos (with Facebook use most prevalent at 79%), searches (with more than half of Google inquiries sent from mobile phones), and personal information, like account numbers, social security numbers, and passwords. To make this mass data transmission affordable, many providers now store user data on remote “cloud” servers-a practice that produces doubts about data security in light of recent high-profile breaches.
In addition to security concerns, serious legal questions have emerged regarding who may view the data on personal devices (or data that has been stored elsewhere). In 2016, industry leaders Apple and Amazon refused to assist government authorities in accessing data associated with their products’ users, even in criminal cases. While the Supreme Court has laid base rules to govern cell phone searches incident to arrests, the issues of how much personal data the government is entitled to when investigating individuals, and what procedures they must follow to obtain the information, are still unfolding.