Tagged: Fourth Amendment


Need an alternative to the third party doctrine? Look backwards, not forward. (Part I)


In light of the renewed discussion on the future of the third party doctrine on this blog and elsewhere (much of it attributable to Riley), I’d like to focus my next couple of posts on the oft-criticized rule, with the aim of exploring a few questions that will hopefully be interesting* to readers. For the purpose of these posts, I’m assuming readers are familiar with the third party doctrine and the arguments for and against it.

I’ll start with the following question: Let’s assume the Supreme Court decides to scale back the third party doctrine.  Where in the Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence should the Justices look for an alternative approach?  I think this is an interesting and important question in light of the serious debate, both in academia and on the Supreme Court, about the third party doctrine’s effect on privacy in the information age.

One answer, which may represent the conventional wisdom, is that there simply is nothing in the Supreme Court’s existing precedent that supports a departure from the Court’s all or nothing approach to Fourth Amendment rights in Smith and Miller.  According to this answer, the Court’s only choice if it wishes to “reconsider” the third party doctrine is to create new, technology specific rules that address the problems of the day.  (I’ve argued elsewhere that existing Fourth Amendment doctrine doesn’t bind the Court to rigid applications of its existing rules in the face of new technologies.)

A closer look at the Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence suggests another option, however. The Supreme Court has not applied the underlying rationale from its third party doctrine cases to all forms of government intrusion.  Indeed, for almost a century the Supreme Court has been willing to depart from the all or nothing approach in another Fourth Amendment context: government searches of dwellings and homes.  As I’ll discuss below, the Supreme Court has used various tools—including the implied license rule in last year’s Jardines, the standard of “common understandings,” and the scope of consent rules in co-habitant cases—to allow homeowners, cohabitants, tenants, hotel-guests, overnight guests, and the like maintain Fourth Amendment rights against the government even though they have given third parties access to the same space.

In other words, it is both common sense and black letter law that a person can provide third parties access to his home for a particular purpose without losing all Fourth Amendment rights against government intrusion. Letting the landlord or the maid into your home for a limited purpose doesn’t necessarily give the police a license to enter without a warrant—even if the police persuade the landlord or the maid to let them in. Yet the Court has abandoned that type of nuance in the context of informational privacy, holding that sharing information with a third party means forgoing all Fourth Amendment rights against government access to that information (a principle that has eloquently been described as the “secrecy paradigm”). As many have noted, this rule has had a corrosive effect on Fourth Amendment rights in a world where sensitive information is regularly shared with third parties as a matter of course.

Why has the Court applied such a nuanced approach to Fourth Amendment rights when it comes to real property and the home, but not when it comes to informational privacy?  And have changes in technology undermined some of the rationale justifying this divergence? These are questions I’ll explore further in Part II of this post; in the meantime I’d love to hear what readers think about them. I’ll spend the rest of this post providing some additional background on the Court’s approach to privacy in the context of real property searches.

More after the jump.

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 61, Issue 1

Volume 61, Issue 1 (December 2013)

Against Endowment Theory: Experimental Economics and Legal Scholarship Gregory Klass & Kathryn Zeiler 2
Why Broccoli? Limiting Principles and Popular Constitutionalism in the Health Care Case Mark D. Rosen & Christopher W. Schmidt 66



“Let’s Have a Look, Shall We?” A Model for Evaluating Suspicionless Border Searches of Portable Electronic Devices Sid Nadkarni 148
An Article III Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand: A Critical Race Perspective on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Standing Jurisprudence Raj Shah 198





Maryland v. King: What’s a “serious offense” (and, is the Fourth Amendment transsubstantive)?

This is a follow-up to my previous post on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Maryland v. King, which upheld, over a scathing dissent by Justice Scalia, the constitutionality of DNA searches of arestees for “serious offenses” under Maryland’s public safety statute.  One open question after King is how the majority’s rule would apply to other states’ DNA collection statutes, which permit DNA collection for a broader range of offenses than does Maryland’s statute.

The King majority repeatedly limited its holding to DNA searches that followed arrests for a “serious offense.” But what counts as a serious offense?  This is a live question in Haskel v. Harris, the ACLU’s challenge to California’s DNA collection law (Prop. 69). According to the ACLU, California’s law would permit DNA collection for arrests on suspicion of “simple drug possession, joyriding, or intentionally bouncing a check.” An en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit is considering the case in light of Maryland v. King. If the ACLU’s characterization is correct, then California’s law may not survive intact under King’s “serious offense” limiting principle.

While the task of determining the seriousness of an offense as a triggering condition for a legal rule can be difficult–particularly in light of the patchwork of criminal laws that forms the quilt of our fifty-state, federalist system–it is not outside the province of what courts do. For instance, in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, 130 S. Ct. 2577 (2010), the Supreme Court had to decide whether state or federal standards should apply in determining whether a person convicted of a second state drug possession offense committed an “aggravated felony” under the immigration laws, and was therefore subject to automatic deportation. (The Court ultimately held the drug possession conviction was not an aggravated felony).

Is the Fourth Amendment transsubstantive (and should it be)?

More generally, King’s “serious offense” principle raises questions about whether the Fourth Amendment is, or remains, transsubstantive.  The Supreme Court has previously suggested the Fourth Amendment is transsubstantive–namely, that all other things equal, the Fourth Amendment applies the same way regardless of the severity of the underlying crime that’s being investigated.  (Though I’m not familiar with the scholarship on this issue, it appears scholars agree this is the governing rule: see here and here).

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Maryland v. King: Are suspiconless DNA searches permissible for crime solving or suspect identification? (Probably, both).

dnaI’m thrilled to be guest-blogging at Concurring Opinions just in time for Maryland v. King, the Supreme Court’s decision today on the constitutionality of DNA testing. The Court held (5-4) that the police’s collection (and testing) of King’s DNA after his arrest for a violent crime, and pursuant to Maryland’s public safety statute, was a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

Though the case’s up/down holding is straightforward enough, the majority’s rationale is not. Read in a vacuum, the majority opinion reads as a full-throated legal and policy defense of the government’s use of DNA to verify a suspect’s identification at various stages following a lawful arrest.

But this case—and indeed, the Maryland statute at issue—was not merely about the use of DNA testing for a routine purpose ancillary to police investigations, such as verifying a suspect’s identification. It was, instead, also about the use of suspicionless DNA searches as part of the police’s quintessential activity: investigating and solving crimes.  And that is precisely the conduct which the majority’s opinion authorizes.  (Do read Justice Scalia’s dissent, which argues this point persuasively).

In that vein, here’s what I take to be the majority’s honest holding: the government can engage in suspicionless and warrantless DNA searches of a suspect, including for investigating and solving crimes, in at least one context—when the subject of the search is lawfully arrested for a serious, even if unrelated, offense; and the search is performed as part of a routine, bounded, post-arrest procedure.

The police’s legitimate need to verify an arrestee’s identity, which takes up most of the majority opinion, is weak justification for this exception to the individualized suspicion and warrant requirements.  The more plausible arguments supporting the majority’s holding are, instead, to be found (one might argue, buried) in Part V of the opinion:  Suspicionless DNA searches are permissible in this context because persons lawfully arrested for violent crimes have diminished privacy rights, and DNA swabbing and testing within the bounds of the Maryland statute is (the Court says) relatively unintrusive in light of those diminished rights.  (The Court calls these the “circumstances” of “diminished expectations of privacy [and] minimal intrusions,” citing McArthur, 531 U. S., at 330).

The Court’s decision in King is important and will have potentially far-ranging effects on how police conduct investigations. Even assuming the Court reached the right result (a question I haven’t addressed in this post), the case’s key question merited a more direct and forthright discussion than the majority opinion provides.  For this reason alone, the majority invited, indeed, deserved, every quip and jab in Justice Scalia’s dissent.

The case raises some (but perhaps not so many) interesting doctrinal questions, which I’ll explore in a later post.



More on government access to private sector data

Last week I blogged here about a comprehensive survey on systematic government access to private sector data, which will be published in the next issue of International Data Privacy Law, an Oxford University Press law journal edited by Christopher Kuner. Several readers have asked whether the results of the survey are available online. Well, now they are – even before publication of the special issue. The project, which was organized by Fred Cate and Jim Dempsey and supported by The Privacy Projects, covered government access laws in AustraliaCanadaChinaGermanyIsraelJapanUnited Kingdom and United States.

Peter Swire’s thought provoking piece on the increased importance of government access to the cloud in an age of encrypted communications appears here. Also see the special issue’s editorial, by Fred, Jim and Ira Rubinstein.



The Vanishing Distinction Between Real-time and Historical Location Data

A congressional inquiry, which recently revealed that cell phone carriers disclose a huge amount of subscriber information to the government, has increased the concern that Big Brother tracks our cell phones. The New York Times reported that, in 2011, carriers responded to 1.3 million law enforcement demands for cell phone subscriber information, including text messages and location information. Because each request can acquire information on multiple people, law enforcement agencies have clearly obtained such information about many more of us than could possibly be worthy of suspicion. Representative Markey, who spearheaded the inquiry, has followed up with a thorough letter to Attorney General Holder that asks how the Justice Department could possibly protect privacy and civil liberties while acquiring such a massive amount of information.

Among many important questions, Representative Markey’s letter asks whether the DOJ continues to legally differentiate between historical (those produced from carrier records) and real-time (those produced after an order is issued) cell site location information and what legal standard the DOJ meets for each (or both). Traditionally, courts have accorded less protection to historical location data, which I have criticized as a matter of Fourth Amendment law in my amicus briefs and in my scholarship. The government’s applications for historical data in the Fifth Circuit case, which is currently considering whether agents seeking historical location data must obtain a warrant, provide additional evidence that the distinction between real-time and historical location data makes no sense.

Some background. Under the current legal rules for location acquisition by law enforcement, which are complex, confusing, and contested, law enforcement agents have generally been permitted to acquire historical location data without establishing probable cause and obtaining a warrant. Instead, they have had to demonstrate that the records are relevant to a law enforcement investigation, which can dramatically widen the scope of an inquiry beyond those actually suspected of criminal activity and yield the large number of disclosures that the recent congressional inquiry revealed. Generally, prospective (real-time) location information has required a higher standard, often a warrant based on probable cause, which has made it more burdensome to acquire and therefore more protected against excessive disclosure.

Some commentators and judges have questioned whether historical location data should be available on an easier to satisfy standard, positing the hypothetical that law enforcement agents could wait just a short amount of time for real-time information to become a record, and then request it under the lower standard. Doing so would clearly be an end run around both the applicable statute (ECPA) and the Fourth Amendment, which arguably accord less protection to historical information because it is stored as an ordinary business record and not because of the fortuity that it is stored for a short period of time.

It turns out that this hypothetical is more than just the product of concerned people’s imagination. The three applications in the Fifth Circuit case requested that stored records be created on an ongoing basis. For example, just after a paragraph that requests “historical cell-site information… for the sixty (60) days prior” to the order, one application requests “For the Target Device, after receipt and storage, records of other information… provided to the United States on a continuous basis contemporaneous with” the start or end of a call, or during a call if that information is available. The other two applications clarify that “after receipt and storage” is “intended to ensure that the information” requested “is first captured and recorded by the provider before being sent.” In other words, the government is asking the carrier to create stored records and then send them on as soon as they are stored.

To be clear, only one of the three applications applied for only a relevance-based court order to obtain the continuously-created stored data. That court order, used for historical data, has never been deemed sufficient for forward-looking data (as the continuously-created data would surely be as it would be generated after the order). The other two applications used a standard less than probable cause but more than just a relevance order. It is not clear if the request for forward-looking data under the historical standard was an inadvertent mistake or an attempt to mislead. But applications in other cases have much more clearly asked for forward-looking prospective data, and didn’t require that data to be momentarily stored. Why would the applications in this case request temporary storage if not at least to encourage the judge considering the application to grant it on a lower standard?

I am optimistic that the DOJ’s response to Representative Markey’s letter will yield important information about current DOJ practices and will further spur reform. In the meantime, the government’s current practice of using this intrusive tool to gather too much information about too many people cries out for formal legal restraint. Congress should enact a law requiring a warrant based on probable cause for all location data. It should not codify a meaningless distinction between historical and real-time data that further confuses judges and encourages manipulative behavior by the government.


Appearing for the Defendant, $186,416.00: Medical Marijuana, State Law, and the Fourth Amendment

The Ninth Circuit just issued an opinion about the interplay between state law enforcement, federal law enforcement, the Fourth Amendment, and state law.

The LAPD obtained a warrant to search a licensed medical marijuana facility. The LAPD did not, however, tell the judge that the place to be searched was licensed. The search proceeded. Around 209 pounds of marijuana, 21 pounds of hashish, and 12 pounds of marijuana oil were seized along with $186,416.00. The facility wanted the money back, but it had been turned over federal law enforcement and forfeiture proceedings were started. If forfeited, the city stood to gain about 80 percent of the money. The Ninth Circuit The Ninth Circuit’s ruling (pdf) has the full details. This passage seems to sum up the problem and the way in which the LAPD erred.

While there may have been probable cause to search UMCC for a violation of federal law, that was not what the LAPD was doing. Nothing in the documents prepared at the time the warrant was obtained from the state court or in the procedure followed to obtain that warrant supports the proposition that the LAPD thought it was pursuing a violation of federal law. Instead, it sought a warrant from a state court judge, though, as the District Court found, it lacked probable cause for a state law violation and failed to inform the state court judge of relevant facts that supported the conclusion that UMCC was not in violation of state law. The LAPD, a city agency, never initiated the process of seeking a federal search warrant from a federal magistrate or indicated that it was pursuing a violation of federal law.

I defer to Fourth Amendment scholars as to whether this ruling makes sense. Nonetheless, it seems that the federal government’s new policy might mean that state or local government that wants the federal government involved in going after medical marijuana facilities will have to persuade the federal government that a facility is not complying with state law. That requirement seems to match what the Ninth Circuit is saying state and local law enforcement groups should do with state judges in the first place.


I See Code: Plain View and Computer Searches

The Ninth Circuit has taken a swat computer searches and the plain view doctrine (pdf). I have not yet read the entire opinion but Orin Kerr has a series of posts about the decision here. And Shaun Martin, for whom I have a ton of respect as well, covers the case here. Shaun’s post captures how well-written the opinion is: “In my dreams I could write an opinion this good. It’s clear. It’s concise. It provides meaningful, systemic guidelines. It’s just. It’s got a keen sense of both the practical way the world works as well as the dangers inherent in certain conduct. In short, it’s exactly what I want in a wide-ranging opinion that makes meaningful precedent. … If you only read a dozen Ninth Circuit opinions this year, this should be amongst them.”

Dan and others will likely have more to say, so stay tuned, folks. As Orin notes, “This is really new territory, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I suspect we’ll find out soon, as there are a lot of these cases.” In the interim, here are three paragraphs worth reading:

The point of the Tamura procedures is to maintain the privacy of materials that are intermingled with seizable materials, and to avoid turning a limited search for particular information into a general search of office file systems and computer databases. If the government can’t be sure whether data may be concealed, compressed, erased or booby-trapped without carefully examining the contents of every file—and we have no cavil with this general proposition—then everything the government chooses to seize will, under this theory, automatically come into plain view. Since the government agents ultimately decide how much to actually take, this will create a powerful incentive for them to seize more rather than less: Why stop at the list of all baseball players when you can seize the entire Tracey Directory? Why just that directory and not the entire hard drive? Why just this computer and not the one in the next room and the next room after that? Can’t find the computer? Seize the Zip disks under the bed in the room where the computer once might have been. See United States v. Hill, 322 F. Supp. 2d 1081 (C.D. Cal. 2004). Let’s take everything back to the lab, have a good look around and see what we might stumble upon.

This would make a mockery of Tamura and render the carefully crafted safeguards in the Central District warrant a nullity. All three judges below rejected this construction, and with good reason. One phrase in the warrant cannot be read as eviscerating the other parts, which would be the result if the “otherwise legally seized” language were read to permit the government to keep anything one of its agents happened to see while performing a forensic analysis of a hard drive. The phrase is more plausibly construed as referring to any evidence that the government is entitled to retain entirely independent of this seizure.

To avoid this illogical result, the government should, in future warrant applications, forswear reliance on the plain view doctrine or any similar doctrine that would allow it to retain data to which it has gained access only because it was required to segregate seizable from non-seizable data. If the government doesn’t consent to such a waiver, the magistrate judge should order that the seizable and non-seizable data be separated by an independent third party under the supervision of the court, or deny the warrant altogether.