Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Cyber-Surveillance Without Restraint? The Meaning and Social Value of the Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion Standards in Governmental Access to Third Party Electronic Records
The title of this post comes from this recent article arguing that the Fourth Amendment's probable cause and reasonable suspicion standards provide adequate protection against impermissible searches of third-party electronic records. Here's the abstract:
The United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth Amendment to provide no privacy protection for records held by third parties. The American Bar Association recently sought to step into this breach by recommending standards to govern government access to third-party electronic records, such as those held by banks, Internet service providers, and medical care providers. Those standards retain requirements of probable cause and reasonable suspicion for government access respectively to highly protected and moderately protected records. Law enforcement has challenged these requirements as unduly burdensome, while some commentators have argued that probable cause and reasonable suspicion are so easy to prove in the third-party records context as to provide no effective privacy protection at all. This Article challenges both those views by defining with greater specificity than has yet been accomplished the meaning of two aspects of probable cause: the quantitative and the qualitative. The Article also addresses their social value by exploring cognitive science, philosophy on the nature of probability, and political incentives facing police and prosecutors. The Article also examines the evidentiary concept of “weight” and analyzes the implications of various technological processes for applying these justification requirements in the third-party electronic-records context. The Article ultimately concludes that retaining probable cause and reasonable suspicion protections—when coupled with additional protections provided by the standards—is neither oppressive of law enforcement nor underprotective of persons whose records are searched. Instead, the balance achieved by the standards in this area is just right.