The tendency of the courts to trash our privacy rights in a pathetic attempt to prevent marijuana smoking is so routine that I seldom bother to even point it out anymore, but something about this case bugged me just enough to slap it around for a second.
FAIRBANKS, Alaska – The federal government can obtain suspected marijuana growers’ utility records without a warrant.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled in the case of a Fairbanks utility, Golden Valley Electric Association, which refused turning over records to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
…GVEA argued the Fourth Amendment protects customers from search and seizure without a proper warrant.
But the appeals court ruled a customer lacks an expectation of privacy in an item, like a business record. [SacBee.com]
Doesn’t that just sound silly? In fairness, I’ve studied enough law to know that the legal definition of a term like “expectation of privacy” is always slowly evolving and doesn’t necessarily mean what a random person would think it to mean. But come the hell on. Once we reach a point where they’re telling us with a straight face that we have no “expectation of privacy” with regards to our business records, well, that’s just too stupid for school.
Unfortunately, it’s really rather consistent with how the courts treat our privacy rights, and the decision of how much privacy we can reasonably expect is not ours to make. Courts have consistently ruled, for example, that information you share with a third party carries no expectation of privacy because you’re assuming the risk that someone will turn that information over to the government. I disagree.
Rather obviously, we wouldn’t have to worry about the government obtaining our information from third parties if the government hadn’t granted itself the authority to collect said information and then introduce it as evidence against us in court. I wouldn’t have to worry about third parties carelessly disclosing my private information if such information were legally inadmissible, as it ought to be.
When I hear the term “expectation of privacy,” I think of the physical boundaries that separate public from private. I don’t expect privacy with regards to my purchases at the grocery store, or the content of a conversation on a crowded street. It’s well understood that any crime committed in “plain view” is fair game for police, even if they have to use binoculars to get a good view. I even sort of sympathize with allowing police to search your trash, since you left it outside where anyone could walk off with it.
But anyone can’t just walk off with my utility bills. Stealing mail is a crime, after all. To say that I have no expectation of privacy with regards to that information is preposterous. Yes, the utility company could give my information to the police, but so could a neighbor who steals my mail. Either way, I’m getting screwed by somebody and it’s not my fault for expecting privacy.