It turns out the government's ability to look at your phone records without a court order has only been a settled point of law since 1979! (see Smith v. Maryland) In an opinion written by conservative firebrand Harry "Hang 'em High" Blackmun and joined by such dangerous reactionaries as Warren "Shoot First" Burger & John "Rights Schmights" Stevens, the court held:
(a) Application of the Fourth Amendment depends on whether the person invoking its protection can claim a "legitimate expectation of privacy" that has been invaded by government action. This inquiry normally embraces two questions: first, whether the individual has exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy; and second, whether his expectation is one that society is prepared to recognize as "reasonable."
(b) Petitioner in all probability entertained no actual expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialed, and even if he did, his expectation was not "legitimate." First, it is doubtful that telephone users in general have any expectation of privacy regarding the numbers they dial, since they typically know that they must convey phone numbers to the telephone company and that the company has facilities for recording this information and does in fact record it for various legitimate business purposes. And petitioner did not demonstrate an expectation of privacy merely by using his home phone rather than some other phone, since his conduct, although perhaps calculated to keep the contents of his conversation private, was not calculated to preserve the privacy of the number he dialed. Second, even if petitioner did harbor some subjective expectation of privacy, this expectation was not one that society is prepared to recognize as "reasonable." When petitioner voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the phone company and "exposed" that information to its equipment in the normal course of business, he assumed the risk that the company would reveal the information to the police.
It goes without saying that it would be unreasonable to expect reporters or lawmakers to be "up on" a legal precedent that has only been on the books for 27 years.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Posted by Rich Horton at 5/12/2006 11:47:00 AM