Violating The Fourth Amendment Daily
The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads:
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.
Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it. Quite simply, the government, any government, cannot conduct unreasonable search and seizures against it citizens without probable cause. Yet, Google’s Privacy Counsel says that various government entities demanded user’s personal information from the company at least 13,000 times last year.
Speaking at the Congressional Internet Caucus’ Annual State of the Internet Conference, Google’s Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security Richard Salgado said that “our view is that the statute [the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or ECPA] is out of compliance with the Fourth Amendment because the government can call for the production of your data without a search warrant.”
ECPA, drafted in the 1980s when telephones were the primary mode of electronic communications, does not extend to email or other forms of Internet communication. Under the act, government authorities can and do request user information records with either commonplace, easy-to-issue subpoenas or with little more than written notices stating that the data are pertinent to an investigation.
Telephone wiretaps, on the other hand, are usually subject to more stringent requirements for search warrants, which are issued by courts and judges and are based on the legal standard of probable cause.
The United States has slipped into a surveillance society where every action can be scrutinized by various government departments. If you use a search engine, the government can snoop into your search patterns under the barest of pretenses. The increasing use of cameras and drones can follow your every move if you are deemed suspicious by the current government.
This is not a policy that can be laid at the feet of the Obama administration. The Bill of Rights is not not only seen by this current administration as a negative Bill of Rights that limits their power but also by many of the preceding administrations, Republican and Democrat.
Using the excuse that we need to snoop on our citizens in order to prevent a coming attack, the Pentagon cyber chief downplayed the practice in the interest of national security. NSA Director Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who also heads the Pentagon’s Cyber Command unit, told reporters in July 2012 that the US is coming close to being hit with a computer attack that could devastate the country. Alexander warns, “The conflict is growing [and] the probability for crisis is mounting.”
This ongoing battle between personal liberty and national security has been sharpened by the threat of terrorist attacks since 9/11. On the one side we have such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy organizations. On the opposing side we have the massive government establishment that feels compelled to seek out every detail of our personal lives.
Personal privacy is a delicate balance that every American needs to guard zealously. Without our privacy we will be no more than cogs in the government wheel like the characters in George Orwell’s 1984.
On the horizon, we will have the increasing threat to our personal privacy with the use of surveillance drones and cameras that can snoop into our homes and backyards with impunity. Maintaining our liberty means that Americans must be ever vigilant to secure each and every part of the Bill of Rights.
The assault on the Fourth Amendment goes along with the constant attempts by the current administration to limit our Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, the Right to Bear Arms and other amendments of the Bill of Rights. Guard them zealously or we could lose them!