2019 Civics Contest Flyer

"What is an 'Unreasonable Search and Seizure' in the Digital Age?"

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the District Court of Guam are pleased to announce an essay and video contest for high school students in the western United States and Pacific Islands. Contest rules, entry instructions, and more information will be available January 2, 2019, at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/civicscontest 

Entries accepted beginning February 1, 2019. Deadline for entries is April 1, 2019. Sponsored by the U.S. Federal Courts for the Ninth Circuit.

Here is an overview of the contest:

The Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” For more than 50 years, courts have applied the Fourth Amendment to new technology. In the landmark case of Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) (Harlan, J. concurring), the United States Supreme Court determined that the Fourth Amendment applies when someone has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”  The Court held that the police violated the Fourth Amendment when they attached a listening device to the outside of a public telephone booth to record telephone conversations secretly.

In 2012, in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012), the Supreme Court held that installing a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device on a vehicle to monitor its movements constituted a search subject to the limitations of the Fourth Amendment. The opinion did not rely upon the principle of an “expectation of privacy,” stated in Katz, but instead held that the placement of the GPS device on the vehicle was a trespass, which constituted a search.

In 2014, the Supreme Court decided Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), and held that the Fourth Amendment bars police from reviewing the contents of a cell phone that is in the possession of an individual who has been arrested, unless they first obtain a search warrant. The Court explained that “[m]odern cell phones are not just a technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life.’ The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

Last year, in Carpenter v. United States, No. 16-402, 585 U.S. ____ (2018), the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment requires a search warrant for the government to track the past locations of a cell phone through the records of a wireless service provider. The Court considered GPS technology, which allows a service provider to find and record the location of a cell phone, and observed that although advances in technology had “afforded law enforcement a powerful new tool to carry out its important responsibilities . . . this tool risks Government encroachment of the sort the Framers, after consulting the lessons of history, drafted the Fourth Amendment to prevent.”

The Supreme Court has not considered whether the Fourth Amendment applies to drones equipped with cameras and other surveillance devices, which may be operated by or on behalf of the government. However, it has applied the Fourth Amendment to other technologies used for surveillance, including thermal imaging, Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), and aerial observation and photography from an airplane or helicopter. California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207 (1986); Florida v. Riley, 488 U.S. 445 (1989); Dow Chemical Co. v. United States, 476 U.S. 227 (1986).

The prompt for the Ninth Circuit Civics Contest is:
Discuss the referenced Supreme Court cases and analyze their impact, if any, on your lives.

Your essay and/or video should include a discussion of your views on the significance of the Fourth Amendment. You should then discuss any protections it may provide as to information the government or others may obtain from your smartphone, voice-activated intelligent personal assistant, and other electronic devices, and your postings on social media. Finally, your essay should address the application of your rights under the Fourth Amendment to the use of drones, GPS, and other surveillance technology.

Individual students can express their thoughts and ideas in an essay of between 500 and 1,000 words. Individuals and teams of up to three students can produce a 3-5 minute video on the theme. A student may submit both an essay and video. A student may submit only one essay and be involved in the production of only one video.

The contest is open to high school students in nine western states and two Pacific island jurisdictions. Students from public, private, parochial and charter schools and home-schooled students of equivalent grade status may enter.
Published Date: 
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
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