Friday, September 10, 2010
Everyone who has been screened at an international border, scanned by an airport metal detector, or drug tested for public employment has been subjected to an administrative search. Since September 11th, the government has increasingly invoked the administrative search exception to justify more checkpoints, unprecedented subway searches, and extensive wiretaps. As science and technology advance, the frequency and scope of administrative searches will only expand. Formulating the boundaries and requirements of administrative search doctrine is therefore a matter of great importance. Yet the rules governing administrative searches are notoriously unclear. This Article seeks to refocus attention on administrative searches and contends that much of the current mischief in administrative search law can be traced to the Supreme Court’s conflation of two distinct types of searches within one doctrinal exception – namely “dragnet searches” of every person, place, or thing in a given area or involved in a particular activity and “special subpopulation searches” of individuals deemed to have reduced expectations of privacy. Dragnets came first, and special subpopulation searches came later. As the category of administrative searches tried to accommodate both kinds of searches, it gradually lost the ability to impose meaningful limitations on either one. To bring clarity and sense to this area of the law, this Article proposes that we disentangle these two kinds of administrative searches.