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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
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