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A Right to Privacy


Imagine living in a world where your every action is watched and scrutinized. 


This sounds a lot like the world of George Orwell’s 1984.  Or perhaps the Truman show.  Are we living in 1984?  Is such a world so farfetched? 


The Forth Amendment to the US constitution states:

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.


First, the Virginia declaration of rights of 1776, which prohibited general warrants, was the eventual basis of the Forth Amendment. It was written in response to the Writ of Assistance Act, which allowed the government to come into your house without a warrant or with just a general warrant and look through your things, even if they weren’t looking for anything in particular. The Forth Amendment made it so they had to have a specific warrant or probable cause. 


A common argument against privacy is “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”  Is that really a fair thing to say? It is like saying you don’t have free speech because you have nothing to say.   If the government really wanted to, they could make someone appear guilty even if they haven’t done anything by misrepresenting what they see. This is the same reason there is a right to remain silent as stated in the Fifth Amendment. Or, suppose even that you do something that is not illegal now but later is made so. There is also the fact that everyone has likely committed some crime without their even knowing – it has been said that the average person commits several felonies a day without even realizing it. “Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.” That was said by Lavrentiy Beria, the assistant to Stalin, who would find any excuse to arrest someone he didn’t like. The government however, tends to like to protect their own privacy.   


With new technology, the issue of privacy has become more complicated, just as the First Amendment has taken on a new angle because of the internet.  Do your emails and such count as your persons, houses, papers, and effects?  This became a controversy with the NSA and data collection. 


Not all of this is being done by government mandate either.  Many people are willingly giving it up, they are more than willing to give away their privacy for convenience.   Think about some of the online or phone apps people sign up for, then the information those companies collect is sold to other companies or the government.  


Is it worth it to give up privacy if there is a chance that it makes it easier to catch bad guys?  There have been a number of cases that have tried to determine this, and some have proposed exceptions to the Forth Amendment.  Were these decisions justified?  The stop and frisk policy of New York was ruled unconstitutional, but others have not. Some cases decided that your car has less expectation of privacy than your house. When you travel, you go through the TSA, which can be quite invasive. The idea is to keep people safe, but is it really effective in doing so? It is generally in times of crisis, a war or major disaster that these rights are most often threatened and done so in the name of security.  Additionally, cell phones automatically keep track of location and their microphone could be on without you being aware.  


So, the idea of “big brother watching you” may be more real than you realize.