Corporate Avatars and the Erosion of the Populist Fourth Amendment

Author:Avidan Y. Cover
Position:Assistant Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University School of Law; Director, Institute for Global Security Law and Policy
Pages:1441-1502
SUMMARY

Fourth Amendment jurisprudence currently leaves it to technology corporations to challenge court orders, subpoenas, and requests by the government for individual users' information. The third-party doctrine denies people a reasonable expectation of privacy in data they transmit through telecommunications and Internet service providers. Third-party corporations become, by default, the people's... (see full summary)

 
FREE EXCERPT
1441
Corporate Avatars and the Erosion of the
Populist Fourth Amendment
Avidan Y. Cover
ABSTRACT: Fourth Amendment jurisprudence currently leaves it to
technology corporations to challenge court orders, subpoenas, and requests by
the government for individual users’ information. The third-party doctrine
denies people a reasonable expectation of privacy in data they transmit
through telecommunications and Internet service providers. Third-party
corporations become, by default, the people’s corporate avatars. Corporate
avatars, however, do a poor job of representing individuals’ interests.
Moreover, vesting the Fourth Amendment’s government oversight functions
in corporations fails to cohere with the Bill of Rights’ populist history and the
Framers’ distrust of corporations.
This Article examines how the third-party doctrine proves unsupportable in
the big data surveillance era, in which communicating and sharing
information through third parties’ technology is a necessary condition of
existence, and non-content data, such as Internet subscriber information or
cell site location information, provides an intimate portrait of a person’s
activities and beliefs. Recognizing the potential for excessive government
surveillance, scholars, courts, and Congress have endorsed corporations as
one solution to Executive branch overreach and privacy invasion.
This Article demonstrates through both government and corporate reports that
companies have rarely challenged government requests for their users’ data.
Incentives to cooperate with government surveillance, including highly
profitable relationships with government, government regulation of
companies, and statutory immunity, make it unlikely that corporations will
ever be adequate avatars. This Article further documents how expansive
search powers originated in England with the aid of private industry, making
corporations dubious guardians of the Fourth Amendment.
Assistant Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University School of Law; Director,
Institute for Global Security Law and Policy. I am grateful to Jessie Hill, Sharona Hoffman, Lew
Katz, Orin Kerr, Raymond Ku, and Cassandra Burke Robertson for their helpful comments.
Additional thanks to Andrew Dorchak, Judith Kaul, Lisa Peters, and Hui Wu for their assistance
with legal research.
1442 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 100:1441
This Article offers three practicable solutions to increase individual agency.
First, the third-party doctrine should be limited in order to permit an
expectation of privacy in some non-content data. Second, Congress should
enact proprietary rights in certain personal data. Finally, technological
advances should facilitate individuals’ selection of corporations’ services and
devices that ensure notice of government surveillance and enable direct
communication between the people and government over searches and
seizures.
I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 1444
II. THE THIRD-PARTY DOCTRINE AND BIG DATA ............................. 1446
A. ORIGINS OF THE THIRD-PARTY DOCTRINE .............................. 1446
B. BIG DATA ............................................................................. 1447
C. THE THIRD-PARTY DOCTRINE IN THE BIG DATA ERA .............. 1450
1. Internet Subscriber Information ............................... 1450
2. Cell Site Location Information .................................. 1451
3. Email Contents ............................................................ 1453
4. Telephony Metadata ................................................... 1454
III. THE CORPORATE AVATAR DYNAMIC ........................................... 1456
A. THE INEVITABLE CONSEQUENCE OF THE THIRD-PARTY
DOCTRINE ............................................................................. 1456
B. JUDICIAL DISCUSSION OF THE CORPORATE AVATAR DYNAMIC .. 1457
C. STATUTORY ENACTMENT OF THE CORPORATE AVATAR
DYNAMIC .............................................................................. 1460
IV. THE LIMITS OF THE CORPORATE AVATAR DYNAMIC ................... 1463
A. CORPORATE AVATAR CHALLENGES......................................... 1463
B. THE PROBLEM OF NONDISCLOSURE ........................................ 1467
C. CORPORATE AVATAR ARGUMENTS ......................................... 1469
V. THE CORPORATE AVATAR DYNAMIC FALLACY ............................. 1473
A. THE CORPORATE AVATAR DYNAMICS FUNCTIONAL
LIMITATIONS ........................................................................ 1473
1. Tech Companies’ Relationships with the
Government ................................................................. 1473
2. Government Control over Private Communications
Systems ......................................................................... 1475
3. The Private Tech Company as a Public Actor ........... 1477
4. Tech Companies’ Attitudes Toward Privacy ............. 1478
5. Immunity ..................................................................... 1479
B. COUNTERARGUMENT: THE MARKET AS A PRIVACY
MOTIVATOR .......................................................................... 1481
2015] CORPORATE AVATARS 1443
C. THE NORMATIVE WEAKNESSES OF THE CORPORATE AVATAR
DYNAMIC .............................................................................. 1485
1. The Fourth Amendment as a Check on
Government ................................................................. 1485
2. English History of Corporate Searches and
Seizures ........................................................................ 1485
3. Constitution-Era Distrust of Corporations ................ 1487
4. Fourth Amendment Minority Viewpoint
Protection .................................................................... 1488
5. The Corporate Fourth Amendment Right ................ 1489
6. The Dangerous Power of the Private Few ................. 1490
VI. SOLUTIONS TO THE CORPORATE AVATAR DYNAMIC FALLACY ..... 1492
A. NOTICE ................................................................................. 1493
B. LIMITING THE THIRD-PARTY DOCTRINE ................................. 1493
1. Non-Content Data Exception ..................................... 1494
2. Involuntary Provision of the Personal Data
Exception ..................................................................... 1495
C. THE PEOPLES PROPRIETARY RIGHT TO DATA ........................ 1497
1. Monetization of Personal Data ................................... 1497
2. Legislating Data Ownership ....................................... 1498
3. Automated Privacy Preferences .................................. 1498
4. Automated Big Data Popular Notice Regime ........... 1499
VII. CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 1501

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP