Are phone calls intellectual property?

All the boo-hooing over the FISA reauthorization bill, on the part of the Huffington Posters and the BoingBoingers and the “left-right coalition” that I blogged about a while ago, got me thinking about the Fourth Amendment. The amendment 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 warrant 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.

Somewhere along the line the courts decided the amendment applies to telephone conversations, but I’m not sure I agree with that. Phone conversations certainly aren’t persons, or houses. Might they be considered papers or effects? I don’t think so, because papers and effects have an element of permanence that conversations lack. Electronic files, stored on computers or other media, seem practically preserved in stone compared to the ephemeral nature of phone calls — they would certainly fall under the broad category of “papers and effects,” as intellectual property. But phone calls? Maybe if they were recorded calls 😉 .

When the civil libertarians wrap telephone conversations into the Fourth Amendment, it seems to me they’re establishing an unreasonable expectation of privacy. Personally, I don’t say anything over a telephone that I wouldn’t say across a table in a restaurant — my expectation of privacy is very low, whether I’m using a land-line or a cell phone. To me, because the phone signal traverses the boundary of my home, talking on the phone is about equivalent to opening the window and having a conversation where any passerby can hear it.

Then again, I’m biased in favor of the dedicated professionals who work every day to protect us. I was one of them (not on the Intel side and only in my own small way), and I believe in what they do and appreciate their devotion to their duty. This new version of FISA helps them to protect us from the bad guys, and that’s all I care about.

It helps that I’m not plotting to blow up buildings or assassinate leaders or overthrow the government; I like our government just fine, thank you. I’m not real thrilled about the candidates running to lead it, but that’s another subject — and why I developed the Anti-Campaign, in case anyone was wondering 😀 .

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