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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Opinion at Politico: A Fourth Amendment application for the Internet

    Laura Murphy, director of the Washington Legislative Office at the American Civil Liberties Union, and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, announced the launch of a new effort to apply Fourth Amendment privacy and civil liberty protections to all digital content in an opinion column for Politico.

    Imagine if federal agents, without a search warrant, listened to your telephone conversations, read your mail and seized private records you kept in a locked file cabinet. Imagine they did so without having probable cause to believe you were involved in a committed crime. Finally, imagine that the statutes they relied on were written in the days before most people even had telephones.

    Living in the United States, these extraordinary invasions of privacy are prohibited by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects Americans from “unreasonable searches and seizures” of their “persons, houses, papers and effects.” In many instances, this is true, so it is hard to believe that your digital life is not protected from federal agents by the Fourth Amendment.

    In the age of the Internet, your privacy is not Fourth Amendment safe. [...]

    The government claims this authority to violate your privacy under a federal law called the Electronic Communications Privacy ActECPA. However, ECPA was written in 1986, before most people had computers at home; before laptops, tablets and smartphones changed our lives; before social media and the World Wide Web; before most people even used email. [...]

    Our proposal is simple: All private communications and documents stored online with service providers should have the same protections from unreasonable search and seizure as material locally stored. If government agencies want to read emails, they should go to court, show probable cause to believe a crime is being committed and obtain a search warrant just as they would for postal mail and telephone calls. [...]

    Today we announce the launch of Digital 4th, an effort by the Center for Democracy and Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans for Tax Reform to give digital content the warrant protection the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution requires.

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