I've decided that political discussion has been focusing on the wrong Constitutional Amendment. The discussion of firearms and the Second Amendment has overshadowed the discussion that our society needs to be having about the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment reads as follows: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, 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." The language is clear enough -- our stuff is protected unless someone swears under oath that our property needs to be searched and a judge then issues a warrant.
Real-life cases and trials refine and focus how we interpret the Fourth Amendment. Had the Matthew Stewart case continued through the court system, whether the no-knock warrant was reasonable would have been argued and examined by multiple judges. Any time a legal document, statute or Constitution hinges on reasonable vs. unreasonable, in close cases reasonable minds always seem to differ. Ultimately in the United States, the definition boils down to what five out of nine justices say is reasonable.
My personal foray into Fourth Amendment law happened on Thursday morning when I woke up and pulled out my new Samsung Galaxy to see what was happening in the world. (My contract was up with Verizon, and I had an upgrade to fix my year-old cracked screen model.) The first news story that caught my eye was from the British Guardian.
According to the Guardian, the United States had a Court Order requiring Verizon to daily turnover my phone logs to the FBI. Actually, it wasn't just my phone records but everyone who uses Verizon or calls a Verizon phone in the United States.
The technical term is telephony metadata. Think of it, as every day, the FBI gets an enormously detailed phone bill from Verizon, but still leaves it to the users to pay the bill.
I love looking at original documents, and the Guardian complied, giving me a link to the court order allowing the FBI to collect the telephony metadata. You can look at the document too at http://goo.gl/5evzC.
When legal documents are issued, the top of the document will show the court who issued the judgment: United States District Court, Second District Court of Utah, Small Claims Court of Roy. There are appeals courts, bankruptcy courts, administrative law courts and tax courts. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the number of courts that exist, but I had never heard of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court until this week. In typical lawyer fashion, I will call the court by its acronym from here on out -- USFISC.
USFISC was the Court that issued the Verizon Order. It appears that this particular order is a three-month renewal that has been going on since at least the mid-2000s. As Courts go, the USFISC doesn't seem to be particularly busy; the docket number on the April Verizon Order was 13-80, which means it was only the 80th order issued as of April 12. If you figure there are similar orders for T-Mobile, AT&T and other cellphone service providers, and new orders have to be entered every three months, that would account for most of the USFISC's court business.
I did a little digging and found out that USFISC was formed compliments of the United States Code, Title 50, Section 1803, which is part of what is more commonly known as the Patriot Act. The spy stuff freaks me out a little bit -- courts I didn't know about, telephony metadata and my cellphone calls of the last 10 years in a huge FBI database. I wonder if they have to get a warrant to track individual cellphone numbers through the already existing database? No worries, the Fourth Amendment and the Founding Fathers meant to protect my individual telephony metadata 200 years ago, didn't they. I suggest we all get out our cellphones and give our Congressional representatives a call for clarification.
E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at
801-392-8200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.