Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



In the modern age, we increasingly live our lives through, and accompanied by, digital media. Virtually every transaction or communication that uses such media, as well as every move of mobile phone owners, is recorded. Computers are able to store, transmit, and analyze the data as never before, drawing on multiple sources to construct an intimate picture of our interests, contacts, travels and desires. Private data-mining services, most often used for commercial advertising purposes, can determine: what we read, listen to, and look at; where we travel to, shop, and dine; and with whom we speak or associate. Meanwhile, social networking sites such as Facebook encourage individuals to broadcast their personal lives to ever-increasing networks of "friends". Privacy, many pundits declare, is dead.

The legal consequences of these developments largely remain to be worked out, as technology has advanced much more rapidly than the law. Courts have begun to confront the implications of new technology, as police and prosecutors increasingly rely on such tools to guide their investigations and make their cases. American mobile phone service providers reported that, in 2011 alone, they responded to over 1.3 million requests from law enforcement for mobile phone data, including text messages, location data, and subscriber information. From 2005 to 2010 British public authorities made 2.7 million requests for communications data to private service providers. How should the law adapt to the new reality of this digital age?

Publication Citation

David D. Cole, Preserving Privacy in a Digital Age: Lessons of Comparative Constitutionalism, in SURVEILLANCE, COUNTER-TERRORISM AND COMPARATIVE CONSTITUTIONALISM (Fergal Davis, Nicola McGarrity & George Williams, eds., New York: Routledge 2013)