Bill of Rights in the News: Searching for the Fourth Amendment

The steady march of science and technology has a way of bringing settled law into new areas, challenging what was once convention. An upcoming court case involves just such a predicament – whether or not the government can search your laptop or cell phone without a warrant at border crossings. While it’s long been accepted that the government can search people entering the country, does that also imply to email or text messages? Another case is the use of ‘full body scanners’ by the TSA, which use a type of sensor to create an image of a person, arguably searching them. Explore these and other current issues related to the Fourth Amendment in this week’s eLesson.

Student Handout (PDF)

Supreme Court Cases

Katz v. United States, 1967

Terry v. Ohio, 1967

Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 1989

City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 2000

 

Current Events

How deeply can border agents search your laptop, smartphone?

TSA puts controversial scanners in storage

Mass. high court: Police don’t need warrant to view cellphone call list after arrest

Senate panel to consider bill requiring police to get a warrant before searching emails

Stop and Frisk Policy – New York City Police Department

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Explain four examples of current technology-based challenges to the Fourth Amendment.
  2. On what grounds are some citizens challenging digital border searches?
  3. What similar arguments are used for and against the digital searches of electronic equipment at border crossings, call logs of cell phones, and email records? Which do you find most convincing?
  4. If the government doesn’t physically search you but instead uses other means (ex. full body scanner, drug-detecting dog) to investigate your person, does that constitute a ‘search’?
  5. As more and more activities are broadcast in ‘quasi-public’ forums like Facebook or YouTube, do you think more lenient or stricter restrictions on the searches are needed? Why or why not?
  6. ‘Stop-and-frisk‘ is a program of the New York Police Department wherein police officers stop and pat down people they consider suspicious. It’s been credited for deterring crime and increasing arrests, but some criticize it as overzealous policing. In the past the Supreme Court has allowed pat downs under the Fourth Amendment as long as they are not overly intrusive. Do you think the city-wide implementation of this program would be constitutional?