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Just What Is A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?

by Abby Zimet

In a relatively benign case involving the illegal sale of bald eagle feathers and pelts, a court has again raised concerns about limits on government surveillance, abetted by increasingly invasive technology, by ruling that police can secretly videotape a suspect’s home without a warrant. Several similar cases have been argued; most have ruled the surveillance legal. Given our omnipresent technology, argues Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Hanni Fakhoury, we shouldn't have to "live under a rock in the wilderness somewhere" in order to avoid pervasive law enforcement monitoring; rather, the Fourth Amendment should mean today what it always has: That the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" shouldn't be violated.

At what point are we “making available at a relatively low cost such a substantial quantum of intimate information about any person whom the Government, in its unfettered discretion, chooses to track (that we) ‘alter the relationship between citizen and government in a way that is inimical to democratic society'”? - Justice Sonia Sotomayor, from the earlier United States v. Jones


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