Supreme Court Cases: The Third Party Doctrine



Supreme Court Cases: The Third Party Doctrine


















Supreme Court Cases: The Third Party Doctrine

In the present day technological era, Americans are living in a world in which every click on the internet and telephone conversation that they have has the capacity to leave a digital trail that can be stored, explored, and combined in manner that would easily reveal fundamental insights about their private life. While the Fourth Amendment rights are meant to protect American citizens from undue search and seizure, the present law extends minimal protection to personal information that is willingly left online. The introduction of the third party doctrine in the 1970s has greatly undermined the individual freedoms by creating a privacy gap that denies the public their Fourth Amendment rights to any personal information that is processed by third parties, including the information and data that they may have stored in a cloud. Given the ease at which law enforcement officers are able to access such data without a warrant, consent, or awareness of the data owners, it is necessary to understand how the third party doctrine influences search and seizure of personal information in the United States.

Article 1-Background

“Rethinking Privacy: Fourth Amendment “Papers” and the Third-Party Doctrine” by Michael W. Price expounds on the issues surrounding privacy and the third party doctrine. The article posits that while the proliferation of third party records has made it easier for law enforcement officers to gain access to personal data and undermined the rights afforded to Americans by the Fourth Amendment, the Congress seems reluctant to do anything to reduce the void created the third party doctrine (Price, 2016). The Supreme Court has also been reluctant to make rulings that would impact on the regulation of electronic surveillance, which has allowed national security agencies to take advantage of the existing loophole to secretly collect online data and phone records without the consent or knowledge of the individuals being investigated.

Article 1 – Critique of Strengths and Weaknesses of the Article


The author emphasizes on the fact that the third party doctrine was formulated in the premise of a 1979 Supreme Court ruling on Smith v. Maryland, which was made at a time when technology was not as prevalent as it is today. Price (2016) argues that the Supreme Court seems unwilling to make a ruling that would afford increased privacy protection to the data that Americans share and store electronically. The article states that it is up to the new generation of politicians to come up with a legal framework through which they can ensure that the Fourth Amendment rights are not alienated by the third party doctrine.


While the article focuses on how the third party doctrine imposes on individual privacy, it fails to consider how the Supreme Court perceives the First and Fourth Amendments. It is clear that there is some form of data that is bound to fall outside the scope of the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment, especially the information that is willingly shared through online third parties. Thus, the author makes an assumption that information contained in a person’s cellphone, computer, or cloud server should be afforded similar protections as those outlined in the Fourth Amendment.

Article 2-Background

“Lost in the Cloud: Cloud Storage, Privacy, and Suggestions for Protecting User’s Data” is an article by Eric Johnson that addresses the protection of personal data by the current law. The author stipulates that in the modern digital age, internet users expect a reasonable level of privacy on the information that they store on a cloud. Johnson (2017) urges internet service providers and other third parties to introduce a standard provision in their company privacy policies that would allow them to increase the privacy of their users’ information while securing and maintaining their networks.

Article 2 – Critique of Strengths and Weaknesses of the Article


Johnson (2016) considers the different laws, rulings, and legal provisions that are intended to protect the privacy of personal data that is stored in a cloud. The author explores various laws, including the Stored Communications Act, the Fourth Amendment, the third-party doctrine, and the gray line drawn by the third-party doctrine and the internet. The article also goes ahead to stipulate the users’ reasonable expectation of privacy while using the internet and why the third party doctrine should not be applicable in the information stored in cloud storage.


Generally, the article focuses on the assumption that a change in internet service providers’ privacy policy will overturn the provisions of the third party doctrine. The author believes that Americans can be assured of increased protections on their personal data by choosing a provider that is willing to protect the privacy of such information. However, the article fails to take into consideration the fact that the third party doctrine allows law enforcement authorities to subpoena such third parties and access the information stored in their servers.

Summary of Articles

Both “Rethinking Privacy: Fourth Amendment “Papers” and the Third-Party Doctrine” by Michael W. Price and “Lost in the Cloud: Cloud Storage, Privacy, and Suggestions for Protecting User’s Data” by Eric Johnson stir a fundamental debate regarding the powers that the third party doctrine affords law enforcement authorities while seeking for personal information from third party service providers. Despite the fact that the First and Fourth Amendments extend privacy protections to all Americans, the third party doctrine undermines these rights particularly in instances where the information can be availed by internet service providers. The importance of individual privacy rights cannot be overemphasized, and the fact that the Supreme Court allows these rights to be undermined in the current digital raises fundamental questions about the infringement of American’s constitutional rights.

Personal Reflection, Position, and Christian Worldview

I think that the third party doctrine has failed to achieve its purpose by allowing the police to infringe on the privacy rights of the American citizens. The doctrine is outdated given that it was implemented during an era in which communications technology and the internet were not as advanced as they are today. Indeed, the creation and implementation of the third party doctrine is detrimental to the values outlined in the Fourth Amendment by making it easier for law enforcement agencies to gain access to personal data through subpoenaing the third party service providers. Given the amount of personal data that people store on the cloud, the Supreme Court should recognize that the public has significant expectation of privacy in their digital lives. It is the high time that the U.S. Congress made changes to the law that recognizes the fact that the third party doctrine does not have a place in the present tech-savvy society.











Johnson, E. (2017). Lost in the cloud: Cloud storage, privacy, and suggestions for protecting user’s data. Stanford Law Review, 69(1), 867-909.

Price, M. W. (2016). Rethinking privacy: Fourth Amendment “papers” and the third-party doctrine. Journal of National Security Law & Policy, 8(1), 247-299.


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