The federal privacy legislative scheme is composed of a fragmented patchwork of aging sector-specific statutes—many enacted prior to the advent of the home computer—that supplement the Fourth Amendment to regulate government access to information. The Privacy Protection Act of 1980 is one such statute, though few understand or utilize its protections. The Act prohibits law enforcement officials from searching for or seizing information from people who disseminate information to the public, such as reporters. Where it applies, the Act requires law enforcement officials to instead rely on compliance with a subpoena or the target’s voluntary cooperation to gain access to information. While the Act clearly protects the press, its text reaches more broadly. Changes that have occurred in the information industry since the Act’s passage underscore ambiguities in who and what it now protects. To revive its original privacy and speech protections, this Note advocates a reading of the Act to leverage its clear text to protect the privacy, speech, and business interests of information disseminators. Alternatively, compelling interest requirements for searches and ex ante procedural protections would protect similar privacy, speech, and business-continuity interests relevant to all sectors of today’s information society.
Elizabeth B. Uzelac,
Reviving the Privacy Protection Act of 1980,
Nw. U. L. Rev.