Like many Americans, I have closely followed the travails of Edward Snowden, the former NSA system administrator, who is celebrated by some as a hero and condemned by others as a traitor. The more I learn about the decisions made by Snowden the more unclear it is to me that his intentions were to serve us all by revealing serious flaws with the gathering of massive amounts of information from ordinary, law abiding citizens. Nothing I have read convinces me that Snowden exhausted all available options to legally disclose surveillance and data collection practices that most ordinary people would consider intrusive and constituting government overreach. Perhaps I missed something along the way. If I have, I eagerly wait for someone to tell me.
Troubling too is that Snowden opted to go to Russia, after launching his revelations from Hong Kong, one of the two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China. This is not the first choice that comes to mind if one decides to break U.S. laws and become the most wanted man in America. One can be forgiven for questioning Snowden's intelligence and ability to proactively plan out exactly how he intended to save us all from government surveillance overreach by turning to an area of the world where even the most basic rights to free expression live mostly in the world of fantasy.
I am not sure that Snowden intended to harm the U.S. government. But I feel quite certain that he did not exhaust all possible avenues for exposing invasions of privacy that may well constitute the greatest intrusion into our Fourth Amendment rights in the history of the United States.
Many have confessed to me that they really don't know what exactly is protected under the Fourth Amendment. That's disturbing. How can we protect a right we don't even know we have? Maybe Snowden is an idealist who took the Fourth Amendment so seriously that he decided to pay the high price of being called a traitor.
I don't know if we will ever know the whole truth about what motivated Snowden to do what he did the way he did it. But in the interim, we should all take a moment to read and understand what the Fourth Amendment says, what it means, and why it is critically important in this time in our lives, in this generation and for generations to come. Technology and the ability to gather and store every detail on every person is already here. The only question is, do we care?
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Wikipedia and Fourth Amendment;
The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) is an amendment to the United States Constitution and part of the Bill of Rights. It prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.
It was adopted in response to the abuse of the writ of assistance, a type of general search warrant issued by the British Government and a major source of tension in pre-Revolutionary America. The Fourth Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1789 by James Madison, along with the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, in response to Anti-Federalist objections to the new Constitution. Congress proposed the amendment to the states on September 28, 1789, and by December 15, 1791, the necessary three-quarters of the states had ratified it. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announced the adoption of the amendment on March 1, 1792.
Because the Bill of Rights did not initially apply to the states, and federal criminal investigations were less common in the first century of the nation's history, there is little significant case law for the Fourth Amendment before the 20th century. The amendment was held to apply to the states in Wolf v. Colorado (1949).
Under the Fourth Amendment, search and seizure (including arrest) should be limited in scope according to specific information supplied to the issuing court, usually by a law enforcement officer who has sworn by it. Fourth Amendment case law deals with three central questions: what government activities constitute "search" and "seizure"; what constitutes probable cause for these actions; and how violations of Fourth Amendment rights should be addressed.
Early court decisions limited the amendment's scope to a law enforcement officer's physical intrusion onto private property, but with Katz v. United States (1967), the US Supreme Court held that its protections extended to the privacy of individuals as well as physical locations. Law enforcement requires a warrant for most search and seizure activities, but the Court has defined a series of exceptions for consent searches, motor vehicle searches, evidence in plain view, exigent circumstances, border searches, and other situations.
Posted by Evelyn Castillo-Bach
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