Criminal Defense attorneys tend to sound the alarm on things that people don’t think about. While twitter feeds and proposals by the executive branch to buy Greenland and nuke Hurricanes continue to dominate cable news, the fourth Amendment remains under siege. The Fourth Amendment reads as follows:
“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.”
Three primary eras of law enforcement have slowly whittled away at the efficacy of the Fourth Amendment. The first was the granting of law enforcement powers to the IRS in the effort to break the Mafia and other organized crime. Second, the “crack-down” of the 1980s and early 1990s on the drug trade, cocaine, crack, and heroin greatly expanded search and seizure powers, particularly in the home search and traffic stop contexts. Third, the Patriot act and various State and Federal statutes and case law associated with investigations place a higher priority on security than privacy, the very opposite of Fourth Amendment “protection.”
However, the latest and most effortless destruction of privacy is us, the American People. From time to time, humorous anecdotes of how “Alexa” and similar technology misinterprets our words and searches for things without our intention have become mainstream. We are learning that in fact this is more than a glitch for our amusement. It’s a deliberate and coordinated effort by commercial interests to learn our interests, concerns, needs and wants. Government no longer has to invade your privacy. It let’s you do it for them, and then gathers it as “subscriber information” over which you have little to no control. Now tech companies and the government are coordinating to share this information with government agencies, especially law enforcement. In the name of convenience and our own security, we have placed microphones and now even cameras in our home which listen and watch 24 hours. Every one of these devices retain data that is retrievable by surveillance forces, even long after that information is deleted.
It used to take multiple sources of documentation to obtain a warrant for the government to tap your landline, or to access your postal mailbox and unseal and read your mail. Ask yourself this: Other than information from the government itself, like Tax documents and vehicle tabs, what do you receive by mail that is actually private or confidential? Probably not much. If you’re like most people, most of your postal mail is junk mail, political advertisements, and local vendors. You probably don’t care if the government sees that. Now take into account that a complete search and data dump of every communication on a suspect’s cell phone has become standard procedure in many arrests. How much more private is the device in your pocket used to communicate about every facet of your life right down to bank accounts and passwords? Imagine not only that the government now has access to a defendant’s cell phone, but every communication and transaction made by other individuals with that defendant, including, perhaps, YOUR communication. Consider also Federal and state efforts to intercept and infiltrate dissident political groups, BLM, antifa, and even public interest organizations like the National Lawyers Guild and various organizations trying to assist immigrants and refugees.
The new “normal” for surveillance will occur in REAL TIME to be used against anyone the government chooses for whatever purposes, official or unofficial. Before you place your next listening device in your home, before you decide linking your accounts to your doorbell camera is a good idea, be sure you understand that you are participating in a wider effort toward passive government surveillance, and the ultimate goal is to regularly access this information without a warrant. You may think “I’m not engaged in nefarious activity”. However the only place these liberties get tested is in a court of law with a person accused of illegal activity. These are the liberties the perpetually protect us all, and when we become willing participants in the surveillance of our lives, we invariably destroy our liberty and place government squarely in power over us.