Archive for August 2013
Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.
That’s from a Supreme Court decision made in 1928, by Justice Brandeis. It was a dissenting opinion. It is even more relevant today than it was then.
The case is Olmstead v. United States, about whether wiretapped phone conversations – which federal agents got without warrants – could be used as evidence in a trial. (The trial involved bootlegging during the prohibition era, which was in fact illegal.)
The Court ruled against the defendants. The Chief Justice at the time was William Howard Taft, who later became President (the only one ever to hold both offices.)
The decision was finally overruled in 1967, in Katz v. United States.
Both cases involved the idea of a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. Today, the government and its minions take the stand that there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy”. It’s hard to argue against that, with so many people – probably a vast majority – publishing their daily movements and inner thoughts – almost hourly.