The Fourth Amendment Third-Party Doctrine, & More from CRS

06.12.14 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

People who voluntarily share information with a third party are not entitled to an expectation of privacy concerning that information under the so-called “third-party doctrine” that currently prevails in judicial interpretations of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

The implications of the third-party doctrine are profound, a new report from the Congressional Research Service explains.

It “permits the government access to, as a matter of Fourth Amendment law, a vast amount of information about individuals, such as the websites they visit; who they have emailed; the phone numbers they dial; and their utility, banking, and education records, just to name a few.”

While the third-party doctrine comports well with other Fourth Amendment case law, CRS said, its continuing validity has lately come into question.

“Several events have precipitated renewed debates over its continued existence. First was the Supreme Court’s decision in the GPS tracking case, United States v. Jones…. Second was the Edward Snowden leaks relating to the National Security Agency’s telephone metadata program….”

“This report explores the third-party doctrine, including its historical background, its legal and practical underpinnings, and its present and potential future applications. It explores the major third-party doctrine cases and fits them within the larger Fourth Amendment framework. It surveys the various doctrinal and practical arguments for and against its continued application. Lastly, this report describes congressional efforts to supplement legal protection for access to third-party records, as well as suggesting possible future directions in the law.”

A copy of the new report was obtained by Secrecy News. See The Fourth Amendment Third-Party Doctrine, June 5, 2014.

Other new and updated CRS reports that Congress has withheld from online public distribution include the following:

Internet Governance and the Domain Name System: Issues for Congress, June 10, 2014

Internet Domain Names: Background and Policy Issues, June 10, 2014

EPA’s Proposed Greenhouse Gas Regulations for Existing Power Plants: Frequently Asked Questions, June 9, 2014

Federal Workforce Statistics Sources: OPM and OMB, June 10, 2014

Year-Round Schools: In Brief, June 9, 2014

Immigration: Visa Security Policies, June 9, 2014

U.S.-China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress, June 10, 2014

Guam: U.S. Defense Deployments, June 9, 2014

Navy Ship Names: Background For Congress, June 5, 2014