How ‘Star Wars’ explains government location tracking


Emperor Palpatine (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Sometimes the easiest way to get a point across is using an analogy everybody knows. And everybody knows "Star Wars." That's probably why Priscilla J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law, used it to make a point about the revealing power of location tracking in a recent paper.

This passage (which ascribes some pretty surprising behavior to prequel characters) was in an article about privacy protections after US v. Jones, a Supreme Court case about warrant requirements for GPS tracking, published by the North Carolina Journal of Law & Technology this spring:

“Imagine that Chancellor Palpatine — the Star Wars character and virtuous Senator from Naboo who is really the evil Darth Sidious in disguise — sets out to discredit the Jedi and their puny Senate supporters so that he can monopolize power. He orders a tracking device that relays information back to giant computers that produce reports about the Jedi’s locations to be placed on all their space ships. He discovers Anakin’s relationship with Senator Amidala, that Obi Wan buys and sells bulk cartons of “death sticks” despite being a spokesperson against them, and that Senator Amidala (despite her relationship with Anakin) also frequents a lesbian bar called Sisters with some friends from her planet Naboo.

He also finds out that Mace Windu and Yoda take out their spaceships and speed through Coruscant’s back alleys for fun. He uses this information to undermine his targets and turn them against each other. All the characters resist his blackmail, except for one: Anakin.”

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Andrea Peterson · July 31, 2013