The Price of Privacy: How Access to Digital Privacy Is Slowly Becoming Divided by Class


The Fourth Amendment’s Third Party Doctrine has recently been extended to cover a person’s interest in their digital information. This has allowed more data to become accessible to government agencies than ever before. Under this doctrine, as soon as digital information is provided to a third party (such as Google or Facebook), it is no longer entitled to a presumption that the originator of the information deemed it to be “private.” As a result, digital information provided to or through a third party is not entitled to Fourth Amendment protection against the State. Private companies have begun pushing back against this unprecedented government access by creating products to make individual communications more secure against both hackers and the government. Those who are able to afford these high-tech security gadgets and encryption technologies are able to enjoy enhanced security over their “private” information. However, those unaware of or unable to afford these products are left with inadequate Fourth Amendment protections for keeping their digital information free from government access. Unfortunately, this has created a discrepancy in the constitutional protections afforded to ordinary citizens based on socioeconomic status: those with money are able to increase the security of their digital information against the state while those with lesser means remain exposed. This article advocates for the acknowledgment of this phenomenon and suggests possible solutions to this disparity.

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