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Protection from unwarranted searches and takings

Search and seizure is a procedure used in many civil law and common law legal systems by which police or other authorities and their agents, who, suspecting that a crime has been committed, commence a search of a person's property and confiscate any relevant evidence found in connection to the crime. Some countries have certain provisions in their constitutions that provide the public with the right to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures". This right is generally based on the premise that everyone is entitled to a reasonable right to privacy.


Amendment IV to the U.S. Constitution
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.

Web Pages

The Fourth Amendment | EFF Surveillance Self-Defense Project
Explains fourth amendment terminology and highlights points to consider, in particular with respect to computers and other electronic devices
A seizure occurs when the government takes possession of items or detains people. A search is any intrusion by the government into something in which one has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Some examples of searches include: reaching into your pockets or searching through your purse; entering into your house, apartment, office, hotel room, or mobile home; and examining the contents of your backpack or luggage.


Arizona Makes It Tougher for Police to Seize People's Money and Stuff for Themselves, by Scott Shackford, 13 Apr 2017
Discusses a civil asset forfeiture reform law signed by Arizona's governor Doug Ducey
Civil asset forfeiture is a mechanism by which police and prosecutors seize the property and assets of a person suspected of a crime and keep it all for themselves. While this type of asset forfeiture has been sold to communities as a method of fighting crime by denying "bad guys" the financial benefits of their misdeeds, the reality of what actually happens is far different ... The end result has been dramatic increase in police looking for any reason to attempt to seize and keep the property of anybody who ends up in their clutches and try to claim with very little evidence at all a criminal connection.
Related Topics: Arizona, Institute for Justice
Big Brother, not Snowden and Greenwald, Is the Story, by Sheldon Richman, 27 Jun 2013
Examines the reaction from various media pundits and talking heads (Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, etc.) both progressive and conservative to the Snowden and Greenwald revelations about NSA data collection
Snowden's service to the American people is hardly undercut by his having taken the job intending to expose government violations of the Fourth Amendment. MSNBC's self-identification as a progressive network is hard to square with its unrelenting assaults on Snowden and Greenwald, and its de-emphasis of NSA surveillance ... You don't have to work for MSNBC to suck up to power. Op-ed writers from conservative David Brooks to progressive Richard Cohen have tried to portray Snowden as an alienated oddball, as though no one could have a legitimate purpose in unmasking government surveillance.
The Bill of Rights: Searches and Seizures, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Oct 2004
Discusses general warrants (and the British case of Entick v Carrington) and writs of assistance in colonial America as precedents for the framing of the Fourth Amendment and the latter's imporance in the present
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is rooted in the horrific government abuses arising from "general warrants" in English history and "writs of assistance" in British colonial history in America. ... General warrants entitled law-enforcement officials to go into a person's home for the purpose of making a random search in the hope of finding incriminating evidence. ... In the English colonies, the "writs of assistance" on which government officials relied were general warrants that allowed agents to search for smuggled items — namely molasses, tea, and rum — within any suspected premises.
Borderlands: What’s Happening to America?, by Sheldon Richman, 30 Jul 2014
Discusses the extension of border patrol activities in the United States well beyond (100 miles) the traditional country and coastline limits
The ACLU calls the expanded borderlands, in which two out of three Americans live, a "Constitution-free zone." Specifically, the Fourth Amendment protection ... appears to have been suspended. This area is dotted with checkpoints at which anyone can be stopped, questioned, asked to exit his car, searched, and required to surrender personal belongings. Miller writes,
In these vast domains, Homeland Security authorities can institute roving patrols with broad, extra-constitutional powers backed by national security, immigration enforcement, and drug interdiction mandates ...
Bush Broke the Law, by Charley Reese, 31 Jan 2006
Comments on the response by the Bush administration to the revelation of warrantless surveillance, including the claim by Michael Hayden that the Fourth Amendment does not require "probable cause"
Some years ago, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It sets up a special court that can issue warrants authorizing surveillance of Americans. This court has routinely issued the warrants and even gives the government 72 hours in which it can get a warrant after the fact. ... What the Bush administration is saying is, to hell with the Bill of Rights. ... No probable cause and no oaths or affirmations are needed. All that is needed is if we personally decide that search and seizure is reasonable. By that standard, no police department in the U.S. would need to bother with search warrants.
Bush's Secret Surveillance State, by Anthony Gregory, 26 Dec 2005
Discusses the actions of the Bush administration before and after the New York Times disclosed that secret, warrantless wiretaps were and are being conducted, on both domestic and international calls and emails
The NSA spying program is especially egregious, given that the administration circumvented the already lower standards for surveillance set forth by FISA and unleashed an arm of the military to spy on Americans' communications. But it is only the newest blunt tool of the secretive surveillance state to come to light. Since 9/11, the FBI's powers to issue National Security Letters and to coerce institutions to reveal customers' personal and financial information have been expanded ... In August 2005, the FBI admitted to secretly collecting thousands of files on nonviolent activist and anti-war groups, including the ACLU.
Related Topics: George W. Bush, Government
The Case for Impeachment: Why we can no longer afford George W. Bush, by Lewis H. Lapham, Harper's Magazine, 27 Feb 2006
Editorial discussing John Conyer's Dec 2005 resolution seeking establishment of a congressional committee to, among other things, "make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment" of George W. Bush, and the bases for taking such action
[T]he President [directed] the NSA to monitor, if necessary without first obtaining a court order, any and all telephone and email traffic, in, out, or around the United States, that might turn up a reference (ideological, operational, metaphorical, coincidental, or conversational) to an act (factual or fictional, past, present, or future) of terrorism ... The ... directive, a felony under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (punishable by five years in prison and a $10,000 fine), also nullified the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
A Democratic Dictatorship, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, May 2006
Posits that "ever since 9/11 Americans have been living under dictatorial rule", examining the justifications given by Bush for exercising dictatorial powers
Consider the specific powers the president is claiming: ... The power to record telephone conversations of the American people without first securing a search warrant from a magistrate in the judicial branch, as the Bill of Rights requires. In fact, under the president's rationale, there's nothing to prevent him from conducting any warrantless searches as long as they are part of the "war on terrorism." ... They have the power to do everything they're doing in Iraq right here in the United States: the power to break people's doors down and search their homes and businesses without warrants ...
The Drug War Hits Home, by David Boaz, Freedom Daily, Jan 1992
Reviews several cases of non-users caught in "the tentacles of the War on Drugs" and explains why civil forfeiture is attractive to law enforcers
Grady McClendon, 53, [and family] were driving a rented car through Georgia ... when [he] made a wrong turn ... Local police stopped him, checked his identification, and asked to search the car. He agreed ... [T]he police found jewelry, a registered handgun, and ten Florida lottery tickets. Then they pulled out something they said was cocaine. The McClendons were detained for six hours before being released, but the police kept the possessions found in the car: $2,300 in cash and items ... Eleven months later, the prosecutor finally admitted that lab tests on the alleged cocaine "came back negative."
Related Topics: War on Drugs, Prohibition
The Drug War's Immorality and Abject Failure, by Anthony Gregory, Freedom Daily, Jul 2006
Discusses how drug use differs from criminal, property-rights violations, the justifications for the drug war and the many areas where it has had detrimental effects on society: inner cities, rule of law, foreign relations, etc.
The drug war is a catastrophe for justice and the rule of law, as it has lowered the standard of evidence, shredded the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures ... The drug war has subjected Americans, and foreigners as well, to a systematic abuse of their rights ... Non–drug users are spied on and searched in outrageous ways, all to stamp out drugs ... How can a child learn about property rights and the founding principles of America and yet be taught that his home or vehicle can be searched one day, as long as some police officer thinks he might have drugs?
The Economics Behind the U.S. Government's Unwinnable War on Drugs, by Benjamin Powell, 1 Jul 2013
Analyzes the economics of the drug war, including the demand-supply effects of prohibition on both users and distributors, the effects of higher prices and variable quality, comparisons to alcohol prohibition and external effects
[N]ormal detection and enforcement methods will not work in the drug war. Why? Because ... neither drug users nor drug dealers consider themselves victims. To enforce drug prohibition, police must assume powers and pursue practices that are unnecessary for enforcing laws against other crimes. These tactics include searches of people and property suspected of holding drugs, wiretapping and other surveillance, and violent raids of suspects' homes. Sometimes these tactics have tragic results. Police mistakes often result in "no-knock" raids of the wrong homes.
FBI Free to Ambush our Bill of Rights, by Nat Hentoff, 23 May 2012
Discusses the Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations changed and expanded by Attorney General Michael Mukasey in late 2008 and retained by the Obama administration
One chapter in particular lists the FBI guidelines, explaining how they throttle the Bill of Rights: 'The Mukasey guidelines ... flatly [state] that all activities authorized by the guidelines are exempt from the Privacy Act.' Here, as demonstrated by Ratner and Kunstler, is the America in which you are now living: 'As surveillance and the gathering of information can be carried out without any criminal predicate and on the completely innocent, these guidelines have effectively granted the FBI the authority to use and retain records on millions of law-abiding Americans.'
"Free-Speech Zone", by James Bovard, The American Conservative, 15 Dec 2003
Provides various examples of "free speech zone" incidents as well as reactions in the U.S. and overseas
On May 30, 2002, Ashcroft effectively abolished restrictions on FBI surveillance of Americans' everyday lives first imposed in 1976. One FBI internal newsletter encouraged FBI agents to conduct more interviews with antiwar activists "for plenty of reasons, chief of which it will enhance the paranoia endemic in such circles and will further service to get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox." ... On Nov. 23 news broke that the FBI is now actively conducting surveillance of antiwar demonstrators—supposedly to "blunt potential violence by extremist elements," ...
Gore Channels Taft, by Justin Raimondo, 18 Jan 2006
Commentary on a speech given by Al Gore on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2006, criticizing the administration of George W. Bush; Raimondo suggesting Gore sounded like he was "channeling Robert A. Taft" (Republican Senator 1939-1953)
Focusing on the lawlessness that energized the vast spying program carried out by the NSA on domestic phone calls, e-mails, and other means of communication ... Is it possible that the Left is moving in a more explicitly libertarian direction? If even Al Gore, who served as part of an administration that insisted on its "right" to carry out virtually warrantless electronic surveillance – and that once illegally procured over 400 FBI files on officials who served in previous administrations, is now denouncing similar albeit more radical intrusions as impermissible, then the answer is undoubtedly yes.
Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War, by Murray N. Rothbard, Harry Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader, 1968
Contrasts Court Intellectuals with revisionists and the narrow with the broad revisionists, and then discusses Harry Elmer Barnes' contributions as a broad revisionist of the Cold War
Barnes particularly directed his fire at the increased invasion of civil liberties built upon the launching of the Cold War. He especially noted two Supreme Court decisions gravely invading personal freedom against search and seizure: Harris v. U.S. (1947) and U.S. v. Rabinowitz (1950), and he keenly pointed out that erstwhile ardently New Deal judges such as Sherman Minton and, in the next lower court, Learned Hand, were in the forefront of these despotic decisions.
H. L. Mencken: The Joyous Libertarian, by Murray N. Rothbard, New Individualist Review, 1962
Examines the themes and style in Mencken's writings, mainly from selected pieces in A Mencken Chrestomathy
Mencken goes on to add, on the nature of government and attempts to stem its incursions:
It is, perhaps, a fact provocative of sour mirth that the Bill of Rights was designed trustfully to prohibit forever ... the invasion of the citizen's liberty without justifiable cause ... It is a fact provocative of mirth yet more sour that the execution of these prohibitions was put into the hands of courts, which is to say, into the hands of lawyers, which is to say, into the hands of men specifically educated to discover legal excuses for dishonest, dishonorable and anti-social acts.
How Big Brother Began, by Solveig Singleton, Cato Institute Commentary, 25 Nov 1997
Discusses the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the proposed 1997 Fair Health Information Practices Act and the federal databases that they require (or would have required)
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 mandated a new federal medical records database, and police insist on the right to view that information without a warrant. ... The Fair Health Information Practices Act of 1997 (H.R. 52), now the subject of a Senate hearing, boasts of its new 'protections' for privacy and new penalties for violations. But the bill allows the trustees of medical information to continue to release medical records to law enforcement officers without a warrant or subpoena. This bill thus ignores the most fundamental privacy protection of all, the freedom from warrantless searches provided by the Fourth Amendment.
Related Topic: George Orwell
Illegal Surveillance: A Real Security Threat, by James Bovard, 27 Feb 2006
Describes how the FBI, IRS and other agencies spied on Americans on both sides of the political spectrum during the 1960s and 1970s, and warns about the NSA wiretaps ordered by George W. Bush
Americans seem to have forgotten why the Founding Fathers prohibited government from spying on them. Public opinion polls show that a rising percentage of Americans approve of the warrantless National Security Agency wiretaps of Americans that Bush ordered. But such blind faith in government simply ignores the lessons of U.S. history ... The purpose of the Fourth Amendment was to prevent government officials from having "dictatorial power over the streets" and elsewhere—to restrain the arbitrary power of officials vested with the coercive power of the state.
Illicit Drugs, by Bruce L. Benson, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Reviews various arguments made to justify the drug war (e.g., property crime, violence) versus the actual effects of prohibition (e.g., black markets, asset forfeiture)
[C]ourts, under intense prodding from drug enforcement officials, have relaxed search-and-seizure standards to facilitate the "war" on drugs. Similar reasons lie behind legislation that has undermined property rights by encouraging civil confiscations, which do not require proof of guilt. The 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act contains a section on asset forfeitures that allows local police to keep assets seized during drug investigations conducted with the cooperation of federal agencies, in contrast to many state laws directing such assets into general or special funds.
Imagine a Boot Stamping on Your Face, by John W. Whitehead, 7 Jul 2017
Discusses what the author considers a police state in the United States in 2017 and provides short reviews of 15 films that "may be the best representation of what we now face as a society"
The courts have shredded the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In fact, SWAT teams battering down doors without search warrants and FBI agents acting as a secret police that investigate dissenting citizens are common occurrences in contemporary America ... And bodily privacy and integrity has been utterly eviscerated by a prevailing view that Americans have no rights over what happens to their bodies during an encounter with government officials, who are allowed to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual ...
Institute for Justice Publishes New Edition of Policing for Profit, by Adam Bates, 11 Nov 2015
Describes civil asset forfeiture, which has been exacerbated by the Drug War, and the new edition of the Institute's report on forfeiture practices in the various states
Civil asset forfeiture has been with us for centuries, but the Drug War has kicked the government's incentives to seize property without charge or trial into high gear. Federal seizures alone have gone from tens of millions to billions of dollars a year over the last generation, while the vast majority of states still use a deficient and abusive process to take private property from citizens who haven't been charged with any wrongdoing ... The key findings of the report include ... a continued burden on property owners who have to prove themselves innocent rather than being proven guilty by the state ...
Related Topic: Institute for Justice
It's Not Edward Snowden Who Betrayed Us, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 14 Jun 2013
Discusses commentary from progressive and conservative apologists for the NSA surveillance disclosed by Snowden and constrasts them to writings by David Hume and Lord Acton
So it's okay if the government monitors masses of innocent people as long as it's reviewed by a clique of gagged members of Congress and a secret rubber-stamp "court." That's what I call trust in power. Frankly, it's more alarming that the spying is legal rather than rogue. Michael Kinsley once said, "The scandal isn't what's illegal, the scandal is what's legal." ... The difference between ... surveillance by a coercive monopoly with the legal authority to use aggressive force and, on the other [hand], commercial offerings from one of several competing service providers seems to elude them [Matt Miller and Richard Cohen].
Related Topics: Government, David Hume, Society
James Otis - Hero of the Day, The Daily Objectivist, 2000
Biographical profile published by The Daily Objectivist; introduction to and excerpt of a speech given in February 1761 before the Superior Court, Province of Massachusetts Bay
... I will to my dying day oppose ... all such instruments of slavery on the one hand and villainy on the other as this Writ of Assistance is. It appears to me the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law, that ever was found in an English law-book. ... one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one's house. A man's house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege ...
Kennedy's Libertarian Revolution: Lawrence's reach, by Randy Barnett, National Review Online, 10 Jul 2003
Comments on the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas which deemed sodomy laws to be unconstitutional and in particular on Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion
In Griswold v. Connecticut (the 1965 contraceptives case), the Court struck down as unconstitutional a state ban on the sale and use of contraceptives. Writing for the Court, Justice Douglas (a Roosevelt appointee) held that the law violated what he called the "right of privacy" that he said could be discerned in the "emanations" and "penumbras" of the enumerated rights, such as the right to be free from unreasonable searches.
Law as 'Reason' or as 'Violence'?, by Butler Shaffer, 17 Nov 2001
Compares modern "law" to ancient "law merchant" and describes various rationalizations used to justify the violence in the modern system, highlighting the USA PATRIOT Act and similar legislation
... I draw your attention to the events of the past two months. An imperial president declares 'war' upon an ill-defined 'enemy' ... There followed a mixture of legislated enactments ... executive orders, and proposals for practices that would allow government agencies to wiretap our telephones and Internet communications and enter our homes without our knowledge or consent; ... increased inspections of our persons; as well as proposals for national identity cards, mandatory smallpox vaccinations (based upon purely hypothetical threats), and the employment of the U.S. military to police the American people.
Liberty, safety, and Benjamin Franklin, by Eugene Volokh, The Volokh Conspiracy, 11 Nov 2014
Parses the famous Franklin quote about "essential Liberty" and "little temporary Safety" in the two contexts in which he made it
The Fourth Amendment bars unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires probable cause for warrants. But that means that it allows reasonable searches and seizures, and allows warrants (even to search your houses and papers) when there is probable cause. If we wanted maximum liberty, we could ban all searches and seizures, period. But we realize that the consequence would be an unacceptable loss of safety (you couldn't search someone's home for a dead body, or for a murder weapon), and indeed a loss of liberty, in the sense that criminals undermine our liberty, too. So we trade off some nonessential liberty ... in order to get a considerable amount of long-term safety ...
Related Topic: Benjamin Franklin
Motives Aside, the NSA Should Not Spy on Us, by Sheldon Richman, 18 Jun 2013
Examines a couple of reasons for rejecting the surveillance state, even if "government officials sincerely believe that [collecting] data is vital to the people's security"
A purported cure can be worse than the disease. Who would accept the placement of a surveillance camera in every home as a way of preventing crime? By the same token, gathering data on everyone without probable cause in order to locate possible terrorists should be abhorrent to people who prize their freedom and privacy ... a blameless individual could have his life turned upside down by a bureaucrat who goes the extra mile to ensure that no terrorist act occurs on his watch. Think of the turmoil created for those falsely accused of the bombing at the Atlanta Olympic games and of sending anthrax letters after the 9/11 attacks.
Related Topic: Government
The Naked Truth About "Porno" Scanners, by Mark Skousen, 24 Nov 2010
Criticizes the Obama administration's decision to install "full body" scanners in airports or alternatively invasive "pat-downs"
Let's hope the same thing [a reversal of the regulation] occurs with the Obama administration's decision to install invasive 'full body' scanners at airports in the United States, and to impose invasive pat-downs for those who uphold their Fourth Amendment rights against 'unreasonable searches.' Americans need to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough.' ... Sadly, the majority of Americans seem to support this new attack on privacy. A recent poll found that 80% of citizens go along with the 'full body' searches, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment (no matter what the courts decide).
Related Topic: Cool Hand Luke
None Dare Call It Hypothetical, by Joseph Sobran, The Reactionary Utopian, 20 Dec 2005
Discusses a talk-radio question about whether a plot for a "Super 9/11" (or an even more incredible possibility imagined by Sobran) would justify President Bush ordering wiretaps and surveillance to uncover and prevent the plot
In Washington, D.C., a local talk-radio host poses a provocative question: What if international terrorists were plotting a Super 9/11 that would kill not just 3,000 Americans ... but might wipe ... 'a city of 3,000,000 off the face of the planet'? Would the president then be justified in a few technically illegal wiretaps to detect them in time? ... Such are the stakes in the current debate over whether President Bush has acted ultra vires — beyond his legal powers, even in violation of the Constitution he swore to uphold — in ordering surveillance for what is called national security.
No Right to Remain Silent, by Sheldon Richman, 25 Jun 2004
Discusses the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, that compelling people to identify themselves if requested to do so by police does not violate the Fourth or Fifth Amendments
Nevada and 20 other states have criminalized remaining silent in the face of a policeman's question "What's your name?" By a 5-4 vote the U.S. Supreme Court said that's okay — it's no violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches ... It should make the citizens of a putatively free country uncomfortable to know that the police can have the authority to stop and demand identification on the basis of a "reasonable suspicion," which after all is a highly subjective state of mind ... Under the Terry ruling ... the cop can stop, question, and frisk the person without probable cause.
Not Just Japanese Americans: The Untold Story of U.S. Repression During 'The Good War', by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, The Journal of Historical Review, 1986
Detailed and well-annotated survey of United States government's repression of civil liberties during World War II, both before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor
Unfortunately, to clean up the Bureau, the Coolidge Administration made none other than J. Edgar Hoover its new director ... [R]ecent documents secured by historians under the [FOIA] ... reveal that Hoover secretly defied the Coolidge Directive against political surveillance and sporadically monitored such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), even to the point of illegal break-ins ... FBI officials opened first-class mail and regularly practiced, with Roosevelt's explicit blessing, wiretapping, despite the 1939 Supreme Court ruling that the Federal Communications Act of 1934 proscribed government wiretapping.
Obama Speaks with Forked Tongue on Surveillance, by Sheldon Richman, 11 Jun 2013
Compares contradictory claims by Obama and his administration regarding Edward Snowden's disclosures of NSA monitoring, discusses the obstacles of challenging the surveillance in court and the lack of oversight
Snowden exposed the government's indiscriminate snooping because, among other things, it violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches ... for years the ACLU has tried to challenge the surveillance programs in court ... but the Obama administration has blocked the effort by arguing that the ACLU has no standing to bring the suit. It's a classic Catch-22. Since the surveillance is secret, no one can know if he has been spied on. But if no one knows, no one can go into court claiming to be a victim, and the government will argue that therefore the plaintiff has no standing ...
Related Topics: Government, Barack Obama
Paul Applauds Congressional Restrictions on Patriot Act, by Ron Paul, 24 Jul 2003
Press release about two votes in Congress amending the Department of Justice annual funding and affecting provisions of the Patriot Act
... the Patriot Act ... endangers civil liberties by easing federal rules for search warrants, allowing warrantless searches in some instances, allowing expanded wiretaps and internet monitoring ... One amendment ... denies funding for the Justice department to execute so-called 'sneak and peek' warrants authorized by the Patriot Act. 'Sneak and peek' warrants enable federal authorities to search a person's home, office, or personal property without the person's knowledge! This secrecy upsets decades of legal precedent requiring that an individual be served with a warrant before a search.
The Phony Trade-off between Privacy and Security, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 16 Aug 2013
In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations and subsequent policy directives by Barack Obama, examines the claim that, in a dangerous world, a "balance" must be struck between privacy and security
[I]n the freed market ... the information would be voluntarily disclosed by each individual on mutually acceptable terms ... [I]t wouldn't be right to call [that] an "intrusion." But that sort of situation is not what Barack Obama, Mike Rogers, Peter King, and their ilk mean when they tell us that "we" need to find the right balance between security and privacy. They mean they will dictate to us what the alleged balance will be. We will have no real say in the matter, and they can be counted on to find the balance on the “security” side of the spectrum as suits their interests.
The Phony Trade-Off between Privacy and Security, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Nov 2013
Revised and expanded version of "The Goal Is Freedom" column dated 16 Aug 2013, with additional details on the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies
Regarding [Cass] Sunstein, Glenn Greenwald writes, "In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-'independent' advocates to 'cognitively infiltrate' online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems 'false conspiracy theories' about the Government ... Sunstein advocates that the Government's stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into 'chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups.' ..."
The Post Office as a Violation of Constitutional Rights, by Wendy McElroy, The Freeman, May 2001
Prompted by the announcement of the U.S. Postal Service eBillPay service (now discontinued), surveys the history of mail service vis-à-vis civil rights, from colonial days to the present
Arguably, the USPS has also violated the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees the right of people to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure. The postal prerogative to open and examine letters raises this question. If the USPS did not have the privileges of a legal monopoly, it could not enforce policies that violated the rights of its customers. A recent attempt ... was embodied in Postal Bulletin 21994 (March 1999). The bulletin targeted ... private mailbox providers ... this measure ... provides the government with the names and addresses of every individual and business who rents a private box.
The Rocky Road of American Taxation, by Charles Adams, Mises Daily, 15 Apr 2006
Adapted from the author's For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization; examines tax resistance in colonial America up to the Jefferson presidency
During Cromwell's era, customs officers were authorized to search for smuggled goods in Britain by a Writ of Assistance issued by the Exchequer Court. To obtain this unique writ, the customs officer would swear under oath before a judge that smuggled property was in a particular place; if probable cause was shown, the writ would be signed and the customs officer would conduct the search with the assistance of a local peace officer ... The Writ ... is important in American history because the threat of its use caused the founding fathers to place the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights.
The Secret State, by Carl Oglesby, 19 Dec 1991
Details various events from the dismantling of the Office of Strategic Services after World War II to the 1991 death of Danny Casolaro, which Oglesby said are reason to be worried about "a secret and invisible state within the public state"
[Operation Shamrock], set up by the Pentagon and turned over to the [NSA] after 1947, was discovered and shut down by Congress in 1975. As a House committee explained in a 1979 report, Shamrock intercepted "virtually all telegraphic traffic [in] the United States." Said the House report, "Operation Shamrock was the largest government interception program affecting Americans" ever carried out ... A judicial panel decided in the Pentagon's favor despite the ACLU's argument that to do so was "dangerously close to an open ended warrant to intrude on liberties guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment."
Security Cameras' Slippery Slope, by Gene Healy, The Washington Examiner, 11 May 2010
Discusses the use of surveillance cameras in New York City, in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom and in the United States, as well as drones by British police
... the nonprofit group Privacy International ranks the U.K. as the worst of the Western democracies at protecting privacy, with a record only slightly better than Russia's. We're a few years behind our trans-Atlantic cousins, but we're catching up. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has bought anti-terror cameras for towns as small as Liberty, Kan. (pop. 95), and Dillingham, Alaska, which is too small for a streetlight, but big enough for 80 DHS-funded cameras. Is any of this necessary?
Stop-and-Frisk: How Government Creates Problems, Then Makes Them Worse, by Sheldon Richman, 14 Aug 2013
Considers two recent decisions, from the Justice Department and from a Federal judge, that attempt to ameliorate bad policies enacted in the past, without getting to the root of the problems
[A court] decision ... criticized New York City's stop-and-frisk policy, under which the police can stop, pat down, and question anyone on the street who arouses suspicion, a highly subjective criterion indeed. Federal District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the New York Police Department carries out the policy in a manner that violates the Fourth Amendment rights of blacks and Hispanics ... [H]orrendous policies are to be tweaked to make them less egregious. But this won't be satisfactory. New York police will still have the arbitrary power to stop people walking down the street ...
The Surveillance State Lives, by Sheldon Richman, 21 Jan 2014
Examines Obama's 17 Jan 2014 speech "Remarks by the President on Review of Signals Intelligence" announcing some "reforms" to surveillance programs
In his speech [Obama] said that when he was a senator he was critical of the George W. Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping. But if that's true, why did he vote for the 2008 FISA law, which, as Greenwald notes, "legalized the bulk of the once-illegal Bush program"? ... Obama says we need surveillance to protect us from terrorists. But we could be safe without having our freedoms trampled if the government would stop committing and enabling oppression in foreign countries ... Freedom and security require no trade-off, because genuine freedom includes security against government snooping.
Test your freedom IQ, The Orange County Register, 18 Jun 2006
20 multiple-choice questions covering the role of government, free enterprise, taxes, property rights, free speech, religion, civil liberties, transportation, war and foreign policy, the Nanny State, gun ownership, education and immigration
12. A newspaper publishes a story about a secret government surveillance program on Americans, based on anonymous government sources who were troubled by a program not authorized by the laws or the Constitution. Do you:
a) Demand the leakers be found, that the leakers and journalists go to jail ...
b) Worry a bit about whether the anonymous sources were reliable or had an agenda ...
c) Cheer that this information has been made public and consider the journalists and leakers heroes who have exposed information the government should never have been able to keep secret in the first place?
Time to Rethink the War on Drugs, by David Boaz, Freedom Daily, Oct 1999
Lists several effects of drug prohibition and suggests using some common sense regarding drug legalization
The demand to win this unwinnable war has led to wiretapping, entrapment, property seizures, and other abuses of Americans' traditional liberties. The saddest cases result in the deaths of innocent people: people like Donald Scott, whose home was raided at dawn on the pretext that he was cultivating marijuana, and who was shot and killed when he rushed into the living room carrying a gun; or people like the Rev. Accelyne Williams, a 75-year-old minister who died of a heart attack when police burst into his Boston apartment looking for drugs–the wrong apartment, as it turned out ...
Related Topics: War on Drugs, Prohibition
Warfare/Welfare/Corporate State: All of a Piece, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 24 Jan 2014
Dissects article by Princeton professor Sean Wilentz criticizing Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange due to their libertarian sympathies
If I understand ... Wilentz correctly, progressives ought not to be grateful to Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Glenn Greenwald for exposing government spying ... The problem for Wilentz is that when guys like these disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made O'Brien [in NineteenEighty-Four] drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy ... If individuals are willing to risk their lives and liberty to reveal that the government vacuums up vast quantities of information on everyone—without probable cause or even grounds for suspicion—why do their larger agendas matter?
What Is the Constitution?, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, Jun 2002
Discusses constitutional interpretation of allowed governmental powers and restrictions on such powers, in particular the ninth and tenth amendments, in light of comments from Justice Antonin Scalia about a national ID card
Scalia said he personally opposes the idea and would vote against it ... But when a student asked whether a national ID would violate the ... Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals "in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures," Scalia pointed out that the Amendment says nothing about an ID card ... The other major side urges a looser interpretation. It looks for penumbras emanating from the amendments ... [The strict construction] side finds a general right to privacy emanating from several amendments, particularly the Fourth and Fifth.
Will You Be Safer If Guns Are Banned? Part 2, by Jarret Wollstein, Freedom Daily, Aug 1994
Examines the potential consequences of U.S. nationwide gun prohibition, based on what happened with alcohol prohibition and the war on drugs
The enormous violence and destruction created by gun prohibition will lead to public outcries that the government "do something." The government will respond with warrantless searches ... for guns ... The Police Foundation has called for random use of metal detectors on the streets to identify anyone who might be carrying a gun. Van-mounted magnetometers and other scanners are being developed to search homes and buildings. In Chicago, Housing Authority chairman Vincent Lane has organized door-to-door searches of public-housing apartments, without warrants, looking for drugs and guns.


John Gilmore on inflight activism, spam and sarongs, by John Gilmore, Mikael Pawlo, GrepLaw, 18 Aug 2004
Topics discussed include: terrorism, the drug war, encryption, censorship, spam, the end-to-end principle, the right to travel, anonymity, secret FAA/TSA rules, blogs, copy protection, free software and the EFF
[Gilmore:] Schoolkids learn right away that the government ... can search them at any time without any cause, raising a generation both cynical and resigned to corrupt authoritarianism ...
# Can you please explain ... "Gilmore's inflight activism"?
You're probably referring to how I wear a small pin that says "Suspected terrorist" when I fly internationally ... Yes, when they're searching YOUR bag, it isn't that swarthy guy over there that they suspect of being a terrorist—it's YOU. Without any evidence. YOU, and YOU, and ALL OF US, have gone from "innocent until proven guilty" to "suspects".
Starting a Brush Fire for Freedom: An interview with US Rep. Ron Paul, by Ron Paul, John W. Whitehead, oldSpeak, 9 Feb 2004
Topics include: being a lone wolf in Congress, the Patriot Act and related legislation, George W. Bush, the Iraq War, conservatives and neo-cons, the federal debt, education and the Constitution
You don't have to give up Fourth Amendment protections in order for the government to take care of us. The idea that search warrants could be granted so easily under the Patriot Act with sneak and peek searches and going into libraries and other places to find out what people are doing is wrong. It's total surveillance. ... the Bush Administration and our leadership in Congress ... actually want more powers for the federal government to monitor everything that we the people do. Of course, they say this is to catch terrorists, but these rules affect all private, law-abiding American citizens as well.
Takings Exception: An Interview with Richard Epstein, by Richard Epstein, Steve Chapman, Reason, Apr 1995
Interview topics include libertarian ideas, Epstein's book Takings, the public housing and inner city issues, and civil rights laws
Epstein: ... Normally, in a search situation, you require some kind of particular information about the places to be searched ... [I]f you're trying to look for guns and drugs in a public housing project, that particularization is not going to be possible. Yet there seems to be a strong impulse for trying [it] nonetheless ... One of the arguments that Justice Sutherland made ... was that we would never allow the government to say that you can only use the public highways so long as you're prepared to waive your rights against unreasonable search and seizure with respect to your private houses ...

Cartoons and Comic Strips

Looks like a deal has finally been worked out with the N.S.A., by Wiley Miller, Non Sequitur, 27 Nov 2013
Non Sequitur: 4th Amendment Lost & Found, by Wiley Miller, 17 Jul 2013

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Search and seizure" as of 20 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.