4th Amendment protections officially moot

Wired magazine reports the depressing news that we now officially have fewer constitutional rights than we did under Bill Clinton.

The federal government may spy on Americans’ communications without warrants and without fear of being sued, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a decision reversing the first and only case that successfully challenged President George W. Bush’s once-secret Terrorist Surveillance Program.

In other words, the government can freely and secretly violate the Constitution, with absolutely zero accountability or oversight, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. They can watch everything we do, and we cannot watch what they do.


  1. Ned Champlain says

    It was a sad day when the Patriot Act was passed. The only way to get our rights back is to elect a Congress who will repeal that terrible piece of legislation along with a President who will sign it.

  2. astro says

    So what you’re saying is that the terrorists won… Osama rules from the grave it would seem. Optimistically though, I think this will see it’s day in court again and be ruled correctly, although I can’t imagine how such a cut and dried case went the way it did in the first place…scary. This new precedent will be challenged with every real-world constitutional ‘violation’

  3. sawells says

    Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment: why should you expect the fourth amendment, which protects your “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”, to protect your telephony and email? It seems a little bit like the gun nuts trying to use the 2nd amendment to claim the right to own military-grade weaponry.

    • says

      Because historically the courts have tended to side with the broader interpretation, where “papers and effects” would mean communications in general. This is similar to how the 1st has been interpreted to protect all forms of expression (barring the same caveats as speech). The original telecom act in the 90s was passed with this in mind.

    • The Lorax says

      Sawells, we should expect it because we should be an intelligent, progressive country. The Founders did not write the constitution with telephones and internets in mind, so they did not specify those things. The language is a product of their time. Well, times have changed, and so the language needs to be updated.

    • says

      Because the mail has been held to be part of your “papers”, and telephony has been held to need a warrant in the past, it is an easy walk from there to where your email is a modern technical extension of those same type of communications.

      No real difference in usage or intent, so why would it not be covered?

    • jakc says

      The intent of the 4th amendment is that the guilty should go free. This country was founded by smugglers avoiding British taxes, and yet the modern courts have decided that our founders meant to allow warrantless searches. I get the point you’re making – maybe the founders didn’t mean the 4th to be an expansive – but the truth is we have gutted the 4th amendment. And yes, I do believe that the rights of the 4th amendment ought to be broad. When in doubt, the government ought to have to get a warrant.

  4. Constance Reader says

    “why should you expect the fourth amendment, which protects your “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”, to protect your telephony and email?”

    On this anniversary of his resignation, the answer is obvious: just ask Richard Nixon.

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