The Fourth Amendment: Privacy in the Digital Media


The 4th Amendment is one of the cornerstones of the American constitution. Its primary purpose is to protect the privacy of the citizens, stating “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.” While this amendment provided a solid framework of lawful operations at the time of its creation, the modern realities of modern media are much different. The introduction of digital space threatens to overwrite all existing notions of privacy and make the 4th Amendment obsolete. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the importance of privacy in the digital age.

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The 4th Amendment and the Post-Privacy World

In his article, titled “The Fourth Amendment in a digital world,” Donohue argues that the law in question no longer reflects the reality of the modern world, stating that the concept of privacy in the traditional meaning of the word had been effectively dying for the past few decades. In support of the argument, he claims that the amount of technological processes and 3rd-party organizations requiring personal information on a daily basis effectively erases the boundary between private and public spaces, which was the cornerstone of the existing framework. Social media sites make things even more difficult since they are both effectively private and public spaces at the same time, allowing a user to store personal information and share it with others.

Personally, I believe that the core of the 4th Amendment will always be relevant, no matter the day and age. Its purpose is to protect citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the Government or the third parties that might compromise them in any way. Although the number of agencies with access to such data increased in the last several decades, in their essence, they are not different from the post office, hospital, and government facilities that already deal with private data and have the potential to access and abuse it. The 4th Amendment will not stop a person from opening up the envelope and reading your letter, but its purpose is to hold that person accountable, should they be caught. While I agree that the wording of the Amendment should be updated to reflect the modern realities better, I disagree with the idea of privacy being a moot concept.

Collecting Information Online

Modern technology collects data about individuals non-stop. People forfeit their private information whenever they make a transaction online or access a publicly-available Wi-Fi. Some of this information is necessary for operating different processes, such as GPS tracking or banking transfers. However, many services, such as sites, add-ons, and apps, require access to one’s phone, camera, and geolocation devices to operate seemingly unnecessary operations. This kind of information makes a person vulnerable, as it has been proven that the individuals overseeing the flux of information from personal devices can use it to their own ends, potentially endangering other users. As it stands, I am not as comfortable about information collected online as I used to be, as I know that the information is accessible to untrustworthy individuals.

My understanding of fair use in regards to digital media revolves around the idea that copyrighted digital content can be re-used and replicated by third parties so long they do not derive profit from its use and provides proper mention of the copyright owners in a clear and respectable manner. The copyright law and freedom of expression had always had a strenuous relationship at best, as companies often used copyright as a way to stifle creators and critics, especially when it came to criticism of their products, which could not be done without utilizing bits and pieces of digital media. At the same time, the idea of deriving profit from certain content is very vague and unclear. An individual making movie reviews may not be using media from 3rd parties to attempt to sell a product or present the media as their own in a marketable way. However, the content produced by the reviewer will attract more viewers, thus indirectly increasing the individual’s income.

Some of the particular challenges to digital technology are posed by the lack of clarity and the multitude of media uses, not all of which are explicitly covered by copyright law. The examples of pushing the boundaries of fair use, as previously discussed, include movie reviewers and clip-makers on Youtube, who entertain the audience by offering criticism of movies and art while utilizing bits and pieces of copyrighted content and claiming it as fair use. The quality of their own original content (the critique) is being enhanced by the media they freely utilize. At the same time, since their own income usually comes from a third party (either Youtube monetization efforts or private donations by the viewers), it cannot be claimed that the reviewers are deriving profit from copyrighted content.

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StudyCorgi. "The Fourth Amendment: Privacy in the Digital Media." June 7, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "The Fourth Amendment: Privacy in the Digital Media." June 7, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The Fourth Amendment: Privacy in the Digital Media'. 7 June.

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