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.
Yes, that’s the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the fourth item in the Bill of Rights. But a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post reveals that our government is collecting information directly from the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple. And that’s searching and seizing without probable cause.
It’s too early to say that our National Security Agency is tracking every email we send or receive, and every phone call we make or receive, how long we spoke and to whom. After all, we only found out about the program today. What do we know, right?
On the other hand, we do know the government doesn’t have probable cause to believe that all citizens with telephones and/or email accounts have committed a crime. Nor has a judge issued two or three hundred million warrants based upon probable cause.
Some defenders of the National Security Agency say that the agency doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment by gathering all this metadata — data about data — because it isn’t actually listening to your phone conversations or reading your texts or examining the sites you visited or the photos you posted or received. It’s only tracking, only recording who you talk with and for how long, only recording what websites you visit, and so forth. The NSA gathers this metadata so it can sift through it, sift through all of it, to uncover patterns which may or may not look suspicious. So all those people, those people referred to in the Fourth Amendment, they have nothing to worry about. Except their privacy.