The Private is Public: The Relevance of Private Actors in Defining the Fourth Amendment

66 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2005

See all articles by Sam Kamin

Sam Kamin

University of Denver Sturm College of Law


Because the Fourth Amendment regulates only governmental conduct, the behavior of private actors is almost wholly absent from the academic Fourth Amendment literature. In this article, Professor Kamin argues that this exclusive focus on official conduct is myopic; because the Supreme Court often looks to the conduct of private actors to determine the scope of permissible government conduct, a Fourth Amendment approach that ignores the invasions these private actors engage in is likely to concede important civil liberties questions before the government even acts.

Professor Kamin traces the development of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, explaining the origins of the Court's current focus on private conduct. He then describes the current state of private intrusions upon privacy, arguing that emerging technologies have facilitated an exponential growth in the capacity of private actors to obtain and process private information. He argues that this expansion in private searching will likely lead courts to uphold similar invasions of privacy when government agents engage in the same kind of conduct. Finally, Professor Kamin proposes legal, legislative and practical solutions to the current privacy crisis, reluctantly concluding that only individual, practical steps are likely to produce effective privacy expansions in the near term.

Keywords: Search and Seizure, Fourth Amendment, Privacy, Technology, Criminal Procedure

Suggested Citation

Kamin, Sam, The Private is Public: The Relevance of Private Actors in Defining the Fourth Amendment. Boston College Law Review, Vol. 46, p. 83, 2005, Available at SSRN:

Sam Kamin (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States
303-871-6125 (Phone)
303-871-6711 (Fax)


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