Fourth Amendment is Going, Going...
by Leonard Pitts
Perhaps you've heard of the Fourth Amendment.
That's the one that guarantees freedom from unfettered government snooping, the one that says government needs probable cause and a warrant before it can search or seize your things.
That guarantee would seem to be ironclad, but we've been learning lately that it's not. Indeed, maybe we've reached the point where the Fourth ought to be marked with an asterisk and followed by disclaimers in the manner of the announcer who spends 30 seconds extolling the miracle drug and the next 30 speed-reading its dire side effects:
To wit: "Fourth Amendment not available to black and Hispanic men walking in
To those disclaimers, we now add a new one: "Fourth Amendment not effective at the U.S. border."
It seems the computer contained photos of rallies by
None of this moved the border agents -- or the judge. He rejected the suit brought by the
More jarring, Korman found that even had the suit gone forward the plaintiffs would have lost on the merits. It is permissible, he said, for border agents to seize your devices and copy your files, even without any suspicion of wrongdoing. He questioned whether people really need to carry devices containing personal or confidential material and said that dealing with a possible search of such a device is just one of the "inconveniences" a traveler faces.
As it happens, border-control officers already operate under a looser constitutional standard. They are allowed to conduct warrantless, suspicion-less searches of our bodies and our bags.
But our laptops? Our iPads? These devices are repositories of financial records, health information, confidential news sources and diaries. Are you required to surrender even the most intimate stuff of your life and work on the whim of a border agent because he or she doesn't like your looks?
It is a sobering reminder -- not simply that the law lags the innovations of the Information Age, not simply that the whole idea of privacy is shrinking like an ice cube in a tea kettle, but also that if you lard a right with too many "exceptions," that right becomes impotent. So maybe instead of counting the places and situations where the Fourth Amendment no longer applies, we should start counting the ones where it still does.
It's getting so that might be a shorter list.