Interpreting the Fourth Amendment: When Should We Expect Privacy?

Obviously, there is no shortage of history concerning the Fourth Amendment’s “protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.”  However, as the available technology changes it most certainly affects how the Fourth Amendment should be interpreted and analyzed.  Most law students and legal professionals remember the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in U.S. v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012), where the Court held that installing GPS devices on citizens’ vehicles constitutes a Fourth Amendment search that must be justified by warrant.  More recently, a suit was brought in the Minnesota District Court for an alleged violation of the Fourth Amendment arising from three middle school officials’ search of a twelve year-old’s private Facebook account.  R.S. by S.S v. Minnewaska Area School District, et al., 2012 WL 3870868 (2012).   The school counselor, deputy sheriff, and another middle school official logged into the twelve year-old’s Facebook account and viewed her public and private messages.
As professionals and professionals-to-be (and prudent people in general), we are repeatedly warned about the lack (or absence) of privacy within the realm of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  However, in the 12(b)(6) hearing, the Minnesota District Court found that the twelve year-old did have a reasonable expectation of privacy for the ‘private’ messages on Facebook.  It may seem obvious that password protected material is expected to be private, but social media changes the way information is presented everywhere.  Should we expect Facebook profiles to be private if we have set our preferences to restrict ‘non-friends’ from viewing?  Can there be a clear cut line?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s