This week we researched the laws that keep the government from watching our every move. Given how much of our lives is recorded through our many electronic devices, the government certainly has the potential to know a lot about us. And as we found it when Snowden released a bunch of NSA docs in 2013, it probably does.
It turns out, our Constitutional guarantee against “unreasonable search and seizure” has many limits. In fact, the courts have had a hard time expressing the 4th Amendment in terms of electronic searches. Further, when it comes to foreign intelligence and potential national security threats, our laws include plenty of exceptions from the requirement of getting a warrant or consent before intercepting communications.
I will note, though, my own commentary. What keeps us from an Orwell state is the principle enshrined in the 4th Amendment. It’s not the Amendment itself, because when you learn the law, you see how easy it is for our legal system to make exceptions – even to constitutional protections. But in this case, it’s fear of the Orwell state, and of losing our personhood, that enough people in our society have, which binds lawmakers from throwing our privacy protections away when faced with threats to our security.
This week’s map shows the government’s balancing of two fears: an external fear, of national security, versus an internal fear, of personal expression.