Privacy and Surveillance Laws

Research proposal posted by Brian Kane.

In the digital age, the rights and laws regarding privacy are being contested now more than ever. Today personal privacy, both digital and physical, is being discussed. One of the earliest examples of privacy laws in the United States is the 4th amendment. Under this amendment gives “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” (Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution). This and other laws, including the Federal Wiretap Law of 1968, are designed to protect the individual against unlawful searches of personal property by an unfair government. The individual right to privacy is held sacred in this country.

However, the laws of privacy protection are not absolute. Communications and interactions in general areas, such as online chatrooms, and digital communication used for work. Surveillance monitoring by employers has been contested by employees in courts in multiple cases. In City of Ontario, California v. Quon, for example, a search was justified because there were “reasonable grounds” and done “for a non-investigatory work-related purpose” (Ontario v. Quon).

Some argue that the privacy laws are for the best interests of individuals. Individuals and consumers are protected when the monitoring parties have clearly defined limits and barriers. When the government requires search warrants and the corporations are required to obtain consent, the best interests of those being monitored are kept in mind. The constant surveillance by powerful entities removes the right for individuals to act freely and live their own lifestyle. Gratuitous monitoring dehumanizes the employee and implies guilt without any evidence.

Privacy law is not completely virtuous, however. Like all laws, some may seek to exploit privacy law and use it to shield unproductive, immoral, and unethical behavior. When employees use corporate email accounts for personal business, they often claim a right to privacy when investigation begins. Many act recklessly online in this digital age, assuming that the right to privacy is absolute and unbreakable. There are instances where there is legitimate reasons to investigate an individual. When there is probable cause, public good supersedes individual privacy.

The issue of privacy and surveillance laws raises many ethical questions. The rights of individuals and the definition of individualism is put into question when anyone is monitored by a third party. There is concern for the maintenance of human dignity, as some see these searches dehumanizing and distressing on private lives. Pope Leo XIII spoke out against increased surveillance, saying that it intruded and lead to control over individuals. In Catholicism, the holy sacrament of confession revolves around the private recounting of sins and transgressions. When discussing privacy, the matter common good is raised. Aquinas believes that law is created for the common good, “made by him who has the care of the community and promulgated” (2 Bix).

Privacy and Surveillance Law is a widely contested issue in the catholic faith and general ethics. It has its advantages and disadvantages, as any other issue in law, but it will continue to be contested as new innovations shape the information age.

Works Cited

Bix, Brian H. “Secrecy and the Nature of Law.” October 2013. University of Pennsylvania School, Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law. Web. 3/3/2016. Avaliable:

City of Ontario v. Quon. 560 U.S. 746. Accessed 3/3/2016.