UF law professor Christopher Slobogin painted a dark, Big Brother-esque picture Wednesday of the post-Sept. 11 regulation of government surveillance. His speech focused on how recent surveillance acts are in direct conflict with the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search by the government. It also protects the rights of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects.
The amendment requires that a warrant with probable cause be signed by a judge before a search can be performed. But with the heightened search for terrorists, the system of checks and balances on the government has become lax, Slobogin explained.
"These days it's hard to find a reason to celebrate the Fourth Amendment," Slobogin said.
There are four types of surveillance the government uses that the Supreme Court has ruled are not covered by the Fourth Amendment. This allows easier government access into private lives. Slobogin believes these should be regulated by requiring a warrant.
Using slides, Slobogin outlined the four types of surveillance he thinks should be covered by the amendment.
Communication surveillance refers to the seizure of phone numbers and e-mail addresses. This is called envelope information - the content of the conversation itself is still protected.
Physical surveillance uses video, spy satellites and tracking devices. The city of Washington, D.C., set up cameras throughout the entire city seven years ago to record the actions of anyone in the public domain. This surveillance includes the private domain. Police can use binoculars or telescopes on any private residence.
Transaction and data mining surveillance refer to seizure of purchases, finances and bank records. These can be subpoenaed without a citizen's knowledge.
Slobogin believes the Fourth Amendment should play a bigger role in governmental surveillance.
"The government should have to provide a justification for surveillance that's proportionate to the intrusion involved," he said. "As far as the constitution is concerned, there is virtually no limit on what the government can do outside of intercepting domestic communication."
Not only has increased surveillance been unsuccessful, but cameras have only reduced crime six percent and have done nothing to reduce violent crime, Slobogin said.
Slobogin said the government has held 70 people, most of Middle Eastern descent, for more than a year but has only charged nine and convicted four. It has interviewed 15,000 people and convicted 3,000, mostly of minor surveillance crimes, he said.
"Sure a lot of Americans will say, 'I've got nothing to hide,' " he said. "But are you comfortable with the government tracking you?"