Tweet from a telephone booth

In 1967, the Supreme Court of the United States (Katz vs. United States) decided that the telephone conversations recorded by the FBI to convict the accused of transmitting wagering information from a public telephone booth were protected under the 4th Amendment as an illegal search and seizure.

“These considerations do not vanish when the search in question is transferred from the setting of a home, an office, or a hotel room to that of a telephone booth. Wherever a man may be, he is entitled to know that he will remain free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The government agents here ignored “the procedure of antecedent justification . . . that is central to the Fourth Amendment,” a procedure that we hold to be a constitutional precondition of the kind of electronic surveillance involved in this case. Because the surveillance here failed to meet that condition, and because it led to the petitioner’s conviction, the judgment must be reversed.” – Justice Potter Stewart, from the majority opinion.

Privacy according to the 1967 Supreme Court
Privacy according to the 1967 Supreme Court

As the era of social media advances, how will the courts handle the numerous cases of individuals who are fired, disciplined, or even convicted of a crime through evidence collected from social media websites?  Will individuals lose 4th amendment protection on Facebook, Twitter, ect.?  Will the 4th Amendment argument hold weight to information users voluntarily post without understanding how “public” these sites are?

It is safe to say many questions are unanswered at this point.  The technologies available today have added so many new twists to the argument that began over 200 years ago when British soldiers were barging into the homes of colonists.  Now the “Red Coats” could be the government, your employer, or your school barging in on your social media page without cause.

I’m not sure where this debate will end, but for now, it might be safer to just tweet from a public telephone booth!

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Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy located in Baltimore, Maryland. Joey has managed retail and long-term care pharmacy operations in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Leading Over The Counter is a blog of Joey's views and opinions on the topics of pharmacy leadership and management and do not represent the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Joey can be followed on Twitter @joeymattingly.

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