Batavia, NY- Genesee Community College student Benjamin Berry used George Orwell’s “1984” to set the tone for an essay that an earned honorable mention in the David A. Garfinkel Essay Contest sponsored by the Historical Society of New York Courts. Berry was one of 13 students who received honorable mention. The top three winners were recognized at an awards ceremony in the New York Court of Appeals Courtroom on Law Day, May 1, 2013.
The contest invites community college students from around the state to submit essays on topics of New York legal history. This year they were charged with answering one of four questions about “Cyberspace and the Law: What are Our Rights and Responsibilities?” Berry, a resident of Alfred Station, NY, chose to address government surveillance and how modern technology has impacted citizens’ rights to privacy and unwarranted searches. He titled his piece, “1984: Dystopian Fiction or Impending Reality?” “The reason I chose this title was because George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is frequently referenced when discussing government surveillance,” Berry said. “I wanted to start the essay with a slightly dramatic tone, in hopes of it catching the reader’s attention.”
A paralegal studies major, Berry discussed different types of technology used in surveillance including GPS tracking of vehicles and cell phones, email and cloud storage, thermal imaging, and drones. He cited several Supreme Court cases relevant to technological searches, including Olmstead v. United States (1928), Katz v. United States (1967), and United States v. Jones (2012). The research further inspired Berry’s interest in the Bill of Rights and his own personal belief that “the government should not intervene or infringe on daily life unless deemed necessary.”
Berry’s award is well-deserved, according to Professor Charles Scruggs, who encouraged students in his “Rights, Liberties, and Justice” class to submit essays in the Garfinkel Contest. “Ben is one of the very best students I have encountered,” Scruggs said. “He is diligent, inquisitive and open-minded. His essay provided an insightful overview of the ways in which technological change has impacted the court’s jurisprudence in the area of privacy law.”
Berry plans to complete two more semesters at GCC before transferring to a four-year college to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies. Following that he’ll decide whether to pursue a paralegal career or law school. “I would like to thank the Historical Society of the New York Courts for sponsoring the David A. Garfinkel Essay Contest, giving me a chance to test my skills, and selecting me as an Honorable Mention recipient,” Berry said. He also expressed appreciation to Professor Scruggs and his class. “[It] helped me solidify what I stand for in the world of law, political science, and morality.”
Gloria and Barry Garfinkel initiated the essay contest in 2008 in memory of their son, David. The competition seeks to draw students with a wide range of interests in law, history, social science, and general research writing. The grand prize winner receives $1,500 with CUNY and SUNY Community College winners receiving $1,000 each.
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