As we’ve seen for decades, the War on Drugs has eaten away at Americans’ constitutional rights. Despite growing popular opposition to drug prohibition, that erosion of rights has worsened as the War on Drugs has moved online.
In 2015, Ross Ulbricht, creator of Silk Road, an anonymous online marketplace most popularly used by people buying and selling drugs, was sentenced to double life imprisonment plus 40 years without the possibility of parole. He was convicted of the nonviolent crimes of money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identity documents, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics by means of the internet.
The case against Ulbricht was built using information obtained without a warrant under a statutory “relevance” standard that falls well short of the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for probable cause. And yet, at least according to the New York–based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Ulbricht’s constitutional rights were not violated.
The Second Circuit asserts that because internet users voluntarily convey their information to internet service providers, there is no Fourth Amendment issue with the government obtaining that information without users’ permission or knowledge. This chilling assertion undermines constitutional protections against unwarranted searches in an increasingly digital world.
Does the Fourth Amendment right to privacy extend to digital platforms and communications?
On Thursday, September 6, please join the Cato Institute for a conversation about the War on Drugs gone digital and the Fourth Amendment’s role in our modern paperless society, featuring Ulbricht’s mother, Lyn, and Cato constitutional scholar Trevor Burrus.
This event has been cancelled. We will let you know if it has been rescheduled.