High-Tech Gadgets: Ultimate Freedom Or Complete Loss of Privacy?

Everywhere we go these days, the people around us are busy utilizing their high tech gadgets. They may be making phone calls, sending emails, surfing the Internet, creating work-related documents, listening to music, watching videos -- the list goes on and on. And all of these activities can be performed on wireless devices that are as small as a deck of cards.

In fact, this really is not about "they" or "them" - it is really about "we" and "us." We are living life with and through our hand-held devices. The real question is whether this is a positive or negative development.

On the one hand, the ability to perform many tasks remotely and easily can be viewed as very liberating. On the other hand, living life through data and capturing equipment can lead to a true loss of privacy. Let's explore this dichotomy a bit further.

Once upon a time, to get work done, we generally had to be at the office behind a desk and in close physical proximity to co-workers. Those days are over.

Nowadays, we do not have to miss our kids' activities, family events or other social activities because of work. Instead, we show up, while still being able to coordinate work matters through our hand-helds. While it may be annoying to have to deal with work matters while at a non-work event (and it can be annoying to others when they have to overhear our work calls or when they face our work distraction), at least we can make it to that event.

Perhaps even more liberating is the notion of teleworking. Namely, the ability to work remotely from home or other places without the need or requirement to "go to the office" at certain times, or even all of the time. According to a survey by CDW, 17% of federal workers and 14% of private employees telework on a regular basis. And 56% of federal workers receive some sort of telework support, and an amazing 76% of private employees obtain such support.

Teleworking has a number of advantages. It cuts down on lost commute time, decreases traffic congestion and related pollution, and it allows workers to be closer to home to attend to family and other personal matters. Furthermore, in the event of a disaster, the fact that workers are not at their places of employment increases the chances that these teleworkers can continue the functions of their company or government agency.

But with every technological advance, there are downsides. In this area, the loss we face will be something that we really only feel in a big way when it is gone. And that loss is privacy.

Emails create a permanent record of who we communicate with and what we actually say. Cell phone records and website visits provide footprints of where we have been.

Hand-held devices frequently are loaded with cameras and video devices. Thus, wherever we are, no matter what we are doing, we might be the subject of a photo that shows up on a Web page, or of a video that takes center stage on YouTube.

Perhaps the world simply is becoming a smaller place. In earlier times, people in a small town generally knew what other people in the town were up to. Are we moving in that direction again as a result of our high-tech gadgets? If so, are we going there without the benefits of the closeness of small town personal interactions? Maybe, but maybe not.

With our high-tech devices, we actually can be very much in touch with our contacts and a certain closeness can be created by frequent electronic communications, even if those communications do not take place face-to-face.

There is no turning back at this point, as high-tech devices are here to stay. As we move forward in this new world, hopefully certain codes of conduct, or at least some common courtesy will reign, so that we still will have some ability to walk through this world without fear of having our every move being monitored, captured and broadcast for others.

Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at ejsinrod@duanemorris.com. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.

This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.