The Third Party Doctrine and How it Affects Your Daily Life

third party doctrineWhen police suspect you of committing a crime, they have a lot of investigatory tools at their disposal. Unfortunately, except for your rights under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits law enforcement from conducting unreasonable searches, there is little that can stop police from gathering evidence against you.

Even worse, while the Fourth Amendment is an important constitutional right, there are ways that law enforcement can work around it to gather information without implicating your inalienable rights. One of the most important ways that law enforcement makes this happen is through what is called the third party doctrine.

Searches and the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment protects you from searches that are deemed unreasonable. However, generally speaking, law enforcement only conducts a “search” when it intrudes on your reasonable expectation of privacy. If there is no intrusion, then there is no “search” under the Fourth Amendment, therefore police can do almost whatever they want without having to worry about your Fourth Amendment rights.

Reasonable Expectations of Privacy

Because it takes an objectively reasonable expectation that something will be kept private in order for the Fourth Amendment’s protections to be invoked, how that expectation arises – and how it can be destroyed – become crucial for your constitutional rights.

Perhaps the most important way for this expectation to be destroyed is by voluntarily providing information to a third party. Whenever you do this, it is legally implied that you no longer care whether someone else has access to that information. Therefore, your reasonable expectation of privacy in that information is destroyed, and police can obtain that information without intruding on your constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.

This is the third party doctrine.

The Third Party Doctrine and its Implications

This might not seem like something that comes to play very often, but in today’s digital world, it happens constantly. Every time you dial a number on your cell phone or landline, you are voluntarily giving information to your phone company. Every time you take out the trash, you are voluntarily giving things that could be used against you as evidence of a crime to the garbage collector and rubbish disposal company.

Whenever you provide someone else with this kind of information about yourself, police can obtain that information, too, without implicating the protections that the Fourth Amendment provides. This greatly diminishes your constitutional protections, and allows police to gather important evidence against you that they can use in court.

The Federal Criminal Law Center

The attorneys at the Federal Criminal Law Center focus their practice on defending those who have been indicted or who are being investigated for a federal crime. These crimes are some of the most serious that you can face, and range from drug crimes to white collar crimes.

If you or someone that you know are being charged for a federal crime – or think that you are being investigated for one by a federal agency or other law enforcement agency – contact the Federal Criminal Law Center online for legal representation.