The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that 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. Recent Internet developments raise the question of whether this right extends to social networking. Even Justice Alito recognized the issue in his United States v. Jones concurrence, noting that social tools will shape the average person’s expectations about the privacy of his or her daily movements. With millions of social networking website users, there is a need to protect the information placed on those websites. What happens to users who do not properly manage their use of these websites? Is there any protection against the police using that information, in the form of photos, check-ins, or tags, to justify a search or even an arrest? Do users face police action based on their online postings?
The Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on the Fourth Amendment’s relationship with social networking, but as technology continues to advance and as Justice Alito noted in United States v. Jones, the Court will need to examine these issues. The research paper will focus on the privacy implications of social networking activity in the context of location tracking. Facebook, Google and many other internet sites are all capable of tracking users’ locations while they are logged into the website, and the Fourth Amendment may not apply to this type of location tracking. This research paper will also discuss the Fourth Amendment case law detailing the reasonable expectation of privacy standard and concludes that any media placed on social networking websites, including location check-ins, may be without Fourth Amendment protection, because, in the words of the Katz opinion, the social networking users knowingly exposed that information to the public. The paper will identify and explain the main effects of the issue on the criminal justice system, explain how decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court have helped criminal justice professionals know what is and what is not permissible regarding the issue, and, explain any gaps in knowledge about the issue that has yet to be clarified by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the resulting issues presented. The paper will also address some important issues about online users’ protection from Law enforcement actions. The research paper will detail the users’ need to remain aware of publicly viewable information on social networking websites, from photographs and status updates to location check-ins.
Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy (Vol. 22:515)
Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 360 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring).
M. Bedi (2013). Boston College Law Review, Vol. 54.1
U.S. CONST. amend. IV.