Under the Constitution, everyone deserves 4th Amendment protections, not just members of the media. It was necessary to remind my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee of this simple fact during a hearing yesterday.
The focus of the hearing was to examine legislation to deter prosecutorial abuses of power, which have too frequently involved government agencies secretly accessing the communications of American citizens, including reporters. One of the witnesses at the hearing specifically discussed the need to provide legislative protection to “members of the Fourth Estate,” the press.
Historically, there were “Three Estates of the realm” in Europe: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. As the influence of the press grew, it became increasingly recognized as a “Fourth Estate,” on par with the other categories. Our framers understood this, and they drafted the 4th Amendment to protect everyone. No “Estate,” whether that estate encompasses Congress or the press, should receive stronger 4th Amendment protections than any other “Estate.”
If we were serious about combatting instances where government agencies like the DOJ, FBI, and NSA invade people’s privacy, we would pass a law that imposes criminal penalties on those within the agencies who do it. We should also legalize technical solutions like strong encryption that enhance people’s ability to keep their information private.