“Reforming Fourth Amendment Privacy Doctrine”

Frankly, I don’t expect the scholars, lawyers, and judges who have been steeping in traditional Fourth Amendment doctrine their entire careers to get the thesis of my recent American University Law Review article. But you can! And, eventually, if I do enough work, they will.

Here are some highlights from the introduction to “Reforming Fourth Amendment Privacy Doctrine”:

Since 1967, the Supreme Court and lower courts have relied too heavily on an unreliable test that arose from the leading Fourth Amendment case, Katz v. United States. Distracted by Justice Harlan’s concurrence in the case and befuddled by the concept of “privacy,” courts have ignored the simple rule of the actual holding in Katz and conditioned Fourth Amendment rights on surmises about privacy “expectations.”

Privacy is a real thing that need not be a matter of conjecture. The Katz Court held that personal information was protected by the Fourth Amendment because, as a factual matter, the defendant had kept it private. Installing a wiretap to overcome Katz’s use of law and physics to conceal information was unreasonable without a warrant. The Court did not base its holding on open-ended “expectations” or “reasonableness,” as Justice Harlan’s concurrence suggested, but on the affirmative steps Katz took to conceal that information.

If an individual has secured the privacy of particular information, the Fourth Amendment focuses on the reasonableness of the government’s actions in undoing that privacy, not on the reasonableness of the individual’s expectations.