Privacy Katz Vs United States Essay Research

Privacy: Katz Vs. United States Essay, Research Paper

Katz V. The United States The petitioner Mr. Katz was arrested for illegal

gambling, he had been gambling over a public phone. The FBI attached

an electronic recorder onto the outside of the public phone booth. The

state courts claimed this to be legal because the recording device was on

the outside of the phone and the FBI never entered the booth. The

Supreme Court Ruled in the favor of Katz. They stated that the Fourth

Amendment allowed for the protection of a person and not just a person’s

property against illegal searches.

The Fourth Amendment written in 1791 states, The right of the

people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against

unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no

warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or

affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the

persons or things to be seized (Galloway 214). The court was unsure on

weather or not they should consider a public telephone booth as an area

protected by the fourth amendment.

The court did state that: The Fourth Amendment protects people,

not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his

own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But

what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the

public, may be constitutionally protected.

Searches conducted without warrants have been held unlawful

notwithstanding facts unquestionably showing probable cause, for the

Constitution requires that the deliberate impartial judgment of a judicial

officer be interposed between the citizen and the police (Maddex 201).

The FBI agents found out the days and times he would use the pay

phone. The FBI attached a tape recorder to the outside of the telephone

booth. The FBI recorded him using the phone six different times, all six

conversations were around three minutes long. They made sure that they

only recorded him and not anyone else’s conversations. Katz lost the

case all the way up to the Supreme Court because the state courts and

the Court of Appeals said there was no amendment violation since there

was “no physical entrance into the area occupied by the petitioner (Hall


The Constitutional Fourth Amendment was looked at and analyzed

very carefully and the Supreme Court decided in favor of Katz with a

seven to one vote. Strong arguments were brought to the stand, the

Governments eavesdropping violated the privacy of Katz. “The Fourth

Amendment governs not only the seizure of tangible items but extends as

well the recording of oral statements (Katzen 1).” The surveillance in this

case could have been legal by the constitution, but it was not part of the

warrant issued.

Warrants are very valuable to make everything stated in the fourth

amendment legal. The telephone booth was made of glass so he was

visible to the public, but he did not enter the booth so no one could see

him, he entered the booth so no one could hear him. A person in a

telephone booth is under protection of the Fourth Amendment, One who

occupies it, shuts the door behind him, and pays the toll that permits him

to place a call is surly entitled to assume that the words he utters into the

mouthpiece will not be broadcasted to the world.

To read the constitution more narrowly is to ignore the vital role that

the public telephone has to come to play in private communication

(Katzen 2). But with all this evidence it was still fought that the

surveillance method they used involved no physical penetration into the

telephone booth. The Fourth Amendment was thought to limit only

searches and seizures of tangible property.

The decision of the court was seven to one and Justice Marshall

took no part in the decision of the case. Justice Stewart concurred in his

speech that, …these considerations do not vanish when the search in

question is transferred from the setting of a home, an office, or a hotel

room to that of a telephone booth. Wherever a man may be, he is entitled

to know that he will remain free from unreasonable searches and seizures

(Katzen 4).

Justice Stewart’s feelings on the case were that the use of

electronic surveillance should be regulated. He thinks permission should

be granted for the use of electronic surveillance. Justice Douglas, with

whom Justice Brennan joined, concurred that “The Fourth Amendment

draws no lines between various substantive offenses. The arrests in

cases of hot pursuit and the arrests on visible or other evidence of

probable cause cut across the board and are not peculiar to any kind of

crime (Galloway 216). ” Justice Harlan concurred that like a home a

telephone booth has its privacy. And the intrusion into a place that is

private is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Also, warrants are very

important in legal procedures of the court and must be followed through.

Justice White Concurred, I agree that the official surveillance of

petitioner’s telephone conversations in a public booth must be subjected

to the test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment the particular

surveillance undertaken was unreasonable absent a warrant properly

authorizing it (Hall 482).

Justice Fortas and Justice Douglas concurred together and said

that the fourth amendment should be revised for todays technology.

Although the right of the fourth amendment has come up allot like the

Osborn V. United States case. Now it is time to adjust and start by

saying that the FBI “violated the privacy upon which the petitioner

justifiably relied while using the telephone booth (Levy 1097)”.

Justice Black dissented, he could not concur because he could not

make the amendment say what it didn’t know when it was written, “I will

not distort the words of the amendment in order to keep the constitution

up to date (Katzen 15).” He believes that privacy is that only explained in

the fourth Amendment and no general right is granted, by the amendment

so as to give this court the unlimited power to hold unconstitutional

everything which affects privacy…the framers…did not intend to grant this

court such omnipotent lawmaking authority as that…for these reasons I

respectfully dissent(Katzen 15). After this case the court made some

requirements for electronic eavesdropping. Most of them were put in the

Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. There are strict

requirements for electronic surveillance. Warrants now have to be

specified for the use of electronic devices.


Galloway, John, (ed.) The Supreme Court and The Rights of The

Accused. New York: Facts on File, 1973.

Hall, Kermit. The Oxford Companion to The Supreme Court of The

United States. New York: Oxford, 1992.

Katzen, Sally. “Katz V. United States”. FedWorld/FLITE Supreme

Court Decisions Homepage. 24 Sep. 1997.


Levy, Leonard, (ed.) Encyclopedia of the American Constitution.

New York: Macmillan, 1986.

Maddex, James, Jr. Constitutional Law: Cases and Comments. St.

Paul: West, 1979.


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