The Fourth Amendment is in Danger

Today I rise to talk about a looming menace to our democracy that has been pushed off the front pages but that, nevertheless, continues to compromise our individual liberty and freedom everyday— I am talking about the ongoing erosion of our basic right to privacy guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment, as a quick reminder, guarantees: ‘‘The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, and shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’’

From NSA spying, governmental intrusion into your medical history, to Patriot Act searches of your phone and voice records, to Google collecting data about your everyday life and then turning it over to the highest bidder OR the government if they want it—our Fourth Amendment rights are under continued attack.

The Fourth Amendment is a citizen’s greatest strength to combat a bullying and growing governmental police state. We even have seen an expansion of administrative subpoenas—somehow my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not see this as a problem. Why? Because it means that government bureaucrats, without a judge’s approval or probable cause, can lead lawless investigations fishing for wrong-doing without purpose. This tool has been used against businesses, large and small, as well as individual citizens.

The previous administration used the SEC, Department of Justice, and the IRS to target those who seemed ‘‘a bit too conservative’’ or whose purpose aided right-leaning causes.

These administrative subpoenas were created back in the day of FDR and the Great Depression to thwart those who fought back against the New Deal’s major expansion of the federal government and its powers or dared to try to forward free commerce—pay no mind to the forgotten Tenth Amendment. The Founding Fathers abhorred these warrants, also called Writs of Assistance, which were used by the British government to target governmental critics, those seeking religious freedom, a free press, merchants and businesses, or those seeking to better their own lives in the new colonies. The Writs allowed British officials to search or seize any property at anytime, anywhere, for any reason.

The Fourth Amendment protects against government totalitarianism and government over-reach. Whether it is by governmental snooping of our data and phone records, which has been around since the days of J. Edgar Hoover, and has been amped up in a post 9/11 world, or through judge-less warrants like administrative subpoenas, Americans must be on-alert to try to protect what the Fourth Amendment guarantees us all. Because if not, we simply slip back towards a people controlled by our government who is always watching, waiting to grow its power, and listening for that with which it may not agree, a destruction of the amazing democracy that was created almost 250 years ago.

And that’s just the way it is.


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