As Justice Stewart famously observed, "[t]he Constitution itself is neither a Freedom of Information Act nor an Official Secrets Act." What the Constitution's text omits, the last two generations have embedded in "small c" constitutional law and practice in the form of the Freedom of Information Act and a series of overlapping governance reforms including Inspectors General, disclosure of political contributions, the State Department’s "Dissent Channel," the National Archives Information Security Oversight Office, and the publication rights guaranteed by New York Times v. United States. These institutions constitute an ecology of transparency.
The late Justice Scalia argued that the Freedom of Information Act was unnecessary. FOIA has also suffered the converse criticism: that it is necessary but ineffective. A third constellation of critics discerns a mismatch between the legal regime of transparency and the goals of good governance. David Pozen has argued that the costs imposed are pathologically asymmetric. FOIA, he alleges, is "neoliberal" and "reactionary"; it "empowers opponents of regulation, distributes government goods in a regressive fashion, and contributes to a culture of contempt surrounding the domestic policy bureaucracy," while doing little to further scrutiny or control of corporate exploitation.
Drawing on case studies from the Bush-era "Global War on Terror" (or "Terrorism"), this chapter argues that critics miss important normative and practical issues. Critiques focused on denied requests and unsuccessfully litigated cases in isolation miss the ways in which information obtained though unlitigated or partially successful requests is facilitated by, and in turn has catalyzed other elements of a broader ecology of transparency. Analysts of FOIA should be alert to the elements of that ecology. Critics should acknowledge its virtues of resiliency and efficacy. Reformers should neither slight nor squander them.The Constitutional Limits of Private Surveillance' by Kiel Robert Brennan-Marquez in Kansas Law Review (Forthcoming) comments
The age of data-driven law enforcement is upon us. As a consequence, state officials now rely heavily on private surveillance technology to forecast threats, drive investigations, and mobilize enforcement. On the whole, this development is welcome; the use of privately-collected data promises to refine policing and counterterrorism efforts. But it also has major implications for constitutional privacy. For the Fourth Amendment to safeguard privacy into the future, its approach to state action must change. Instead of turning, as it has historically, on the extent of government influence over private surveillance activity, the Fourth Amendment’s coverage should depend on whether private surveillance activity effects an extension, in practice, of law enforcement’s infrastructural capacity.
In addition to its normative benefits, the “infrastructural” approach also resolves certain mysteries within existing law and brings the Fourth Amendment into greater alignment with broader patterns of state action jurisprudence. Most importantly, focusing on infrastructure underscores the connection — unappreciated to date — between (1) law enforcement’s compulsory seizure of privately-held data, enabled by the so-called “third-party doctrine,” and (2) informal data-sharing between law enforcement and the private sector. The third-party doctrine is teed up for reform this term in Carpenter v. United States. But no such progress is on the horizon for informal data-sharing. Doctrinally, the issues have been compartmentalized, even though, at an infrastructural level, they represent two sides of the same coin. Both are mechanisms by which law enforcement officials capitalize on private surveillance technology in lieu of performing surveillance directly — and both thus facilitate bulk, warrant-less data collection by the state. As such, a full solution to the shortcomings of the third-party doctrine demands parallel attention to the shortcomings of the Fourth Amendment’s antiquated state action rules, and vice versa. Solving one problem in isolation from the other risks a partial victory — or even a Pyrrhic one, to the extent that reform of the third-party doctrine could encourage even more informal data-sharing between the government and the private sector. Against this backdrop, the infrastructural approach offers an integrated path forward, and one that will only become more urgent, over time, as data-driven law enforcement practices intensify.