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Home > Privacy and Government > Privacy Law Governing the Government Sector > Sectoral Laws > The Privacy Protection Act of 1980

The Privacy Protection Act of 1980

The Privacy Protection Act of 1980 (42 U.S.C. 2000aa et seq.) has something to do with privacy, but a great deal more to do with protecting First Amendment freedom-of-the-press values. The existence of the Act does reveal the unwillingness of the Supreme Court to defend either the First or the Fourth Amendment when they are challenged by law enforcement interests.

The Act prohibits government officials from searching or seizing the writings and documents of people "reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication." Such materials can be seized if there is probable cause to believe the publisher is involved in the criminal offense.

In other words, the Act prevents investigators from searching newsrooms to uncover information or sources that a news organization has assembled. The Act forces law enforcement to use subpoenas or voluntary cooperation to obtain evidence from those engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment.


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[updated 8/29/00]

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