Big Government Meets the Fourth Amendment

By Beacon Staff
By Joe Carbonari

The Fourth Amendment to our Constitution attempts to protect us from unreasonable search and seizure. Generally speaking, that has meant that what is personally private should not be disturbed by the federal government unless there is an overriding public need, typically one involving a national security issue. Who decides, and under what set of processes, what is “reasonable” and just what constitutes “search” and/or “seizure,” is open for debate.

The question first becomes, “How much of our privacy are we willing to cede to those entrusted to protect us?” Then we must ask, “How are we, average citizens, to know enough to rationally make the decisions required?” Realistically, we can’t. Too much secrecy and technology is involved.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks we naturally tilted more to the security side, sacrificing some privacy. That was understandable. Now many of us feel that we may have tilted too far, particularly where metadata is concerned. Our phone records, emails, financial information, and health history are all either compromised or at risk. Shall we shrug and acquiesce? What actual power do we have?

We have the power of the ballot. We have the power to choose who makes the big decisions for us, what processes they must follow and who checks up on them. Their courage, intelligence, and character are key. Please choose carefully.

By Tim Baldwin

When the states ratified the Fourth Amendment in 1791, they could not have envisioned drones, wiretaps, satellites and other such technology. What they did know, however, was that no person should be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures, regardless of how they happen. That legal principle continues to guide state and federal courts when the executives of government invade individuals’ rights of privacy.

The U.S. District Court in Washington recently opined that the National Security Agency’s unwarranted search of millions of American’s electronic communication violated the Fourth Amendment. Other notable court decisions have protected the right of privacy.

For example, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that our DNA is subject to privacy interests, that government’s use of drones is limited by the Fourth Amendment, and that government cannot affix GPS tracking on vehicles without a warrant.

It is amazing a constitutional Amendment ratified in 1791 still has a significant impact on limiting government action. This proves, in part, that Amendments to the Constitution (see, Article V, U.S.C.) work to limit government power.

The executives of government naturally care less for privacy rights, given the nature of their law-enforcement role; but thankfully state and federal judiciaries have largely and consistently been faithful at limiting “big government” tendencies through the Fourth Amendment.

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