GIVE ME PRIVACY, OR GIVE ME DEATH!
An Investigation into the Intent Behind the Language of the 4th Amendment
Every day, people across America readily surrender both significant and inconsequential information concerning their personal lives. That fragmented information is available to the public and can be collected, compiled, or dispersed at will by anybody who seeks it. By providing our private information to others, we strip ourselves of our own privacy. With every careless disclosure, we essentially forfeit a little more of our privacy, leaving us vulnerable to potentially invasive Governmental surveillance. Over time, our own perspective concerning the value of our privacy gradually diminishes, which can be reflected by subsequent judicial decision. If we are not careful, society’s disposition in general can progressively set a detrimental trend for potential future judicial decisions.
Just as history has demonstrated, the general attitude toward our right of privacy might continue to evolve as time progresses. The more we surrender our privacy, the easier it is to lose and the harder it will be to get them back once we realize that things have gone too far.
Justice Sotomayor’s concurring opinion in U.S. v. Jones illustrates that; “GPS monitoring generates a precise, comprehensive, record of a person’s public movements that reflects a wealth of detailed (information) about her familial, political, professional, religious and sexual associations.”1
Potentially abusive law enforcement practices relating to certain traditional surveillance technics were once overly burdensome, costly, and inconvenient. This former excessively cumbersome process would ordinarily safeguard the privacy of potential suspects but is now inexpensive and uncomplicated.2From Online shopping to surveillance cameras or GPS navigation units, we are constantly being monitored, surveyed, and tracked. Successively emerging technological advances allow others, including our nation’s government, to monitor our every move.3
In U.S. v. Jones, Justice Sotomayor helps clarify public sentiment regarding the trending shift toward the absence of privacy. Sotomayor explains: “Awareness that the Government may be watching, chills associational and expressive freedoms. And the Government’s unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspect of identity is susceptible to abuse… (this type of potential abuse) alters the relationship between citizen and government”.4
In order to properly determine the accuracy of the three distinct opinions addressed by the Supreme Court Justices in the Jones case, one must first decide for himself how to appropriately interpret the language presented in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The Court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, as it relates to the translation of the language found therein, is a much-debated topic among citizens and politicians in the United States. Where some people might feel that the language of the Constitution should be strictly construed and should reflect the intent of it’s drafters, others feel that the language should adapt and evolve with the changes of societal progression.
Ratified in 1791, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (declares):
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”.5
The potential ambiguity inherent in the language of the Fourth Amendment is adequately addressed in the dissenting opinion introduced inKatz v. U.S. Dissenter Justice Black advocates for a strict construction of the language and demonstrates with examples what the founding fathers likely intended when they wrote it.6
Justice Black suggests that the drafters were aware of the existence of potential invasions of privacy and the intrusiveness of eavesdropping but they intentionally chose to overlook these two issues by limiting the scope of protected criteria to tangible things, namely; “persons, houses, papers, and effects”.7Because the right to privacy was not specifically mentioned though the founding fathers could easily have added it, Justice Black argues that it does not amount to a right reserved by the Constitution. Justice Black claims that with clever word manipulation8, the majority essentially improvised an attractive interpretation involving the protection of privacy that consequently dealt with a perspective that many people would naturally agree with, while avoiding the true intent of the drafters.
1) United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945, 955, (2012).
2) United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. at 963.
3) Renee McDonald Hutchins, Tied Up in Knotts? GPS Technology and the Fourth Amendment, 55 UCLA L. Rev. 409, (2008).
4) United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. at 956.
5) U.S. CONST. amend. IV.
6) Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 364, 88 S. Ct. 507, (1967) (Black, J., dissenting).
7) Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. at 365, 88 S. Ct. 507 (Black, J., dissenting).
8) Id. at 373 (Black, J., dissenting).