The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution 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 Warrants 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.".
The rights guaranteed to United States citizens by the fourth amendment have come under attack in light of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Attorney General John Ashcroft has played a pivotal role in ushering in a new era of heightened security and lessened civil liberties. Under Ashcroft's direction Congress has passed several pieces of legislation, namely the USA Patriot Act, which amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This new kind of legislation has broadened the government's power over searches and seizures.
The wording of the fourth amendment is crucial to the dissection of the newly legislated powers of the government. "The right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures," means that probable cause is required for a warrant to be issued. However, now under the USA Patriot "probable cause" has lost much of the power it used to carry. Under the fourth amendment citizens and library patrons were protected, but by using the Patriot Act federal officials can now seize records by simply stating they are pertinent to an ongoing investigation into terrorism or espionage. FISA section 215 allows law enforcement officials to seize these records without disclosing what information for which they are looking. (Is the USA PATRIOT Act Really Patriotic?).
The secrecy allowed by these pieces of legislation holds a major problem with constitutionality. The founding fathers created our government with a system of checks and balances to ensure that no one branch got out of hand in terms of its power over the citizens.