Freedom of Association in a Networked World: First Amendment Regulation of Relational Surveillance

82 Pages Posted: 23 May 2008 Last revised: 27 Feb 2014


Recent controversies about the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of international calls have overshadowed equally disturbing allegations that the government has acquired access to a huge database of domestic call traffic data, revealing information about times, dates, and numbers called. Although communication content traditionally has been the primary focus of concern about overreaching government surveillance, law enforcement officials are increasingly interested in using sophisticated computer analysis of noncontent traffic data to map networks of associations. Despite the rising importance of digitally mediated association, current Fourth Amendment and statutory schemes provide only weak checks on government. The potential to chill association through overreaching relational surveillance is great. This Article argues that the First Amendment's freedom of association guarantees can and do provide a proper framework for regulating relational surveillance and suggests how these guarantees might apply to particular forms of analysis of traffic data.

Keywords: privacy, surveillance, first amendment, freedom of association

Suggested Citation

Strandburg, Katherine J., Freedom of Association in a Networked World: First Amendment Regulation of Relational Surveillance. Boston College Law Review, Vol. 49, No. 741, 2008, The DePaul University College of Law, Technology, Law & Culture Research Series Paper No. 09-003, Available at SSRN:

Katherine J. Strandburg (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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