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Expectations of privacy with Social Media Searches

The government monitoring social media pages constitutes an invasion of privacy. Currently, the fourth amendment allows this form of intrusion. However, as our world continues getting more technologically immersive, there is good reason to believe that a greater degree of privacy should be afforded to our citizens. For example, when does a government employer have the right to search through a person’s daily Facebook conversations? These everyday conversations essentially may allow the government employer to infer one’s character. This is highly problematic because often proper context may not be given. However, more deeply troubling, with the advent of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., comments can be searched from any point in time, this form of intrusion would never comply with offline standards.

The fourth amendment 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,¬†supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. At first blush, it would truly seem that this amendment is violated when a government agent aimlessly dives into a person’s posted content. However, the third-party doctrine creates an exception to this protection from invasion of privacy. Specifically, in social media content the third party doctrine permits such government intrusion. The probable cause standard is not required and therefore, the justification for such searches is unreasonably low.

Social media users believe they are afforded a reasonable level of privacy. After all, often it a closed private network that gives these users the right their conversations will be free from government agents. Should government interests supersede the privacy interests of the individual? Wouldn’t that also infringe upon basic first amendment rights if they do? Individuals could not post freely what they want to say and this would create chill effect on speech. Social media users would constantly have to be concerned about whether government agents might be conducting searches in regards to their posts. A possible solution for the user would be to more strictly enforce their privacy controls and be careful with who they accept into their social network. However, the better solution would be applying the probable cause standard because it still provides law enforcement the ability to do their job but without perusing through the individuals information as they see appropriate.

-Vishal Noticewala