National Security: Fourth AmmendmentAug 13th, 2013 | By Jacob | Category: Editorials
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights adopted by the first Congress and ratified in 1791, is all about privacy. It 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.” There are really two sides to the Fourth Amendment. The first side covers our reasonable expectation of privacy. The second side says that there is a method to break through the privacy shield provided that a properly executed search warrant is first obtained. This amendment isn’t hard to understand. It protects every American citizen against invasion of their personal privacy. This invasion could come from any direction – another citizen; an institution like a bank; a law enforcement agency; or most insidiously, the government. It is interesting that the Fourth Amendment is the most litigated part of our Constitution. As citizens, our privacy is under constant threat of invasion. Challenges to these invasions in the form of lawsuits are often the result. Both the left and right of the political spectrum are usually united in concerns over privacy invasions, particularly by government agencies. As government expands, as it has increasingly since the early 20th century, it inevitably encroaches upon individual freedom. For example, it would be common sense that our individual medical records are protected from unwanted scrutiny by the Fourth Amendment, but an important facet of Obamacare is the digitizing and sharing of everyone’s medical records. The big government answer is that this is necessary to expand medical insurance coverage to an additional 30 million Americans. The civil libertarians argue that regardless of good intentions, nothing is more sacrosanct than individual medical data and this is an invasion of privacy. To fuel the controversy even more, it appears that security systems which are necessary to protect the data from getting into the wrong hands won’t be tested or ready when the exchanges are scheduled to be operational in October. Does the Obama Administration take the chance there won’t be a compromise and implement before it is ready? This give-and-take is a constant irritation in a free, democratic society. Take the curious case of Edward Snowden. He was a contract worker hired by the National Security Administration (NSA) to collect and analyze phone calls and e-mails of American citizens looking for terrorist links. Snowden was more concerned about the invasion of privacy than the terror threat and disclosed the information to the press, setting off an international manhunt. Snowden’s actions all relate to the Fourth Amendment protections. The NSA argues that its data-mining actions are legal, approved by Congress, and within the law. Civil libertarians aren’t so sure. Is he a hero or a traitor? Now consider the business of surveillance. Are security cameras an invasion of privacy? The courts have ruled against the individual in this case – when you are in a public place, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy against surveillance. When you attend a football game in Tallahassee or Gainesville next month, you’re in a public place and you will be searched. Forty years ago when the police took to the skies, first in aircraft and then helicopters, the question of privacy arose. The courts ruled that surveillance is surveillance no matter the technology. They will rule the same when the issue of pilotless drones and satellites are considered. We citizens do not own the airspace above us and we have no right to privacy from over flight. As a boy, I recall that when Social Security numbers were mandated, there was a Fourth Amendment outcry. Police searches are constantly under scrutiny – was the search and evidence uncovered legal? Before James Madison and his fellow Virginians articulated the Fourth Amendment, the concern over privacy came from two 18th Century English Common Law cases. Our English tradition holds that our citizens do not live in a police state like that practiced by Nazi Germany. We have a right to privacy, protected by the Constitution but constantly under assault. We must remain vigilant to protect our individual rights from the encroachment by government.