Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

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Civil Liberties Issues


Privacy/Freedom from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

The Supreme Court’s paramount interpretation of the “unreasonable searches and seizures” clause of the Fourth Amendment is Katz v. U.S. In Katz, the Court held that protections of the Fourth Amendment apply when an individual has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” The second, equally important prong of the opinion holds that: “Searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment- subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.”

USA PATRIOT Act sections 203, 218, 206, 213, 215, 411, and 412 may threaten the amendment’s guarantee against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” For more information on how these USA PATRIOT sections threaten the Fourth Amendment, see BORDC’s Analysis of the USA PATRIOT Act. The talking points BORDC prepared for the February 2010 PATRIOT Act reauthorization debates also provide useful insight into the act's illegal privacy intrusions.

Additionally, the Attorney General's Guidelines on General Crimes, Racketeering Enterprise and Terrorism Enterprise Investigations (Revised May 30, 2002) rescind anti-COINTELPRO regulations requiring probable cause for surveillance of religious and political groups, authorizing FBI monitoring without evidence of wrongdoing. Of particular note is Section VI(A)(2) of the guidelines, which allow FBI members to “attend any event that is open to the public.” For more information on what important revisions Attorney General Ashcroft made to the guidelines, read the ACLU’s analysis.

Other Resources

Domestic surveillance and spying resources page
Senate Gives FBI More Patriot Act Power
ACLU Memo to Interested Persons Regarding Analysis of Senate Intelligence Committee
PATRIOT Act Reauthorization Bill