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Social Media and the Fourth Amendment’s Complex Relationship

June 1, 2016 | Written by Dan Margolis

The Fourth Amendment covers a person’s right of privacy, only allowing law enforcement to search and seize personal belongings under probable cause with a warrant. The advent of many new digital surveillance techniques, including that by the National Security Agency, has led to a debate over whether or not it is constitutional to use information from social media accounts in the court or law, according to Digital Trends.

Telephone conversations and private letters posted through the mail have been ruled to be covered under the Fourth Amendment. However, there is concern that rights of privacy could be weakened due to the fact that many corporations hand over their data without really questioning the constitutionality of the act. Adding to the issue is the willingness of people to put so much of their private life on public display through social media, which is online. This raises questions over what is considered private information and what is not.

Law enforcement agencies increasingly rely on social media to conduct investigations, according to Jet Law. This has led to an increased debate over whether or not the information contained on social media accounts should fall under the privileges allowed in the Fourth Amendment. The way in which law enforcement obtained the information could also impact whether or not it was obtained through an unreasonable search.

A Supreme Court case from the 1960s, Katz v. United States, led to the adoption of a two-pong test to determine a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” This includes whether a person expects privacy in a certain situation and society sees this as reasonable. However, it is difficult to determine the intended privacy of an account on a social media site.

The answer to whether or not social media should be included under the Fourth Amendment rights has yet to be determined. For now, it is often left to a case-by-case basis.

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