Fourth Amendment Should Restrain Private Companies Spying For Government

In an op-ed published by the Daily Caller on Saturday, Judge Andrew Napolitano revisits the faulty argument often repeated by government officials and the corporate media that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution applies only to law enforcement officers and not to domestic surveillance.

The Fourth Amendment protects the privacy of the American people by requiring a search warrant signed by a judge before spying on a citizen. The amendment’s language and the language of state and federal rules and court procedures make no distinction between evidence of crime and evidence of foreign interests.

This requirement of probable cause of crime and specifying what or who is to be searched clearly indicates the intention of the amendment’s framers – to protect citizens from government surveillance and shakedowns. Police are required to focus on crimes after they occur, not on predicting them as future events.

This amendment was enacted in response to the British practice of using general warrants, known as Writs of Assistance, which allowed British agents to search and seize any privately held property without probable cause of crime.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the federal government must obtain search warrants to download or track mobile devices. The court’s decision made no distinction between law enforcement and surveillance agents.

However, the federal government continues to conduct warrantless spying operations on millions of Americans. The unconstitutional surveillance operations have been revealed through the FBI’s admitted use of the NSA and CIA to do the work. That is much easier and cheaper for the FBI than developing probable cause of crime and presenting evidence to a judge.

It has been reported recently that the federal government, as well as state and local law enforcement, has been using a bank clearing house named Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC) to spy on those who wire or receive international fund transfers.

TRAC, a private entity, regularly makes its records available to the federal government and over 600 state and local police departments. Napolitano argues that the government’s access to TRAC data without a subpoena or a search warrant is an obvious violation of the Fourth Amendment and the oath of office taken by federal agents.

TRAC’s close relationship with the hundreds of government agencies it serves effectively makes it an arm of the government. The judge argues that as a result, the Supreme Court can and should impose restraints contained in the Fourth Amendment on the putatively private company.