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Legal Matters: Our Bill of Rights By John C. Nelson, Peters & Moriarty, Attorney and Counselor at Law

Legal Matters is a regular column intended to address general legal concerns. Since every client walks in the door with a different set of circumstances, you should not rely on this column to provide specific legal advice. If you are in need of specific legal advice, please consult with an attorney; he or she will provide advice that is unique and tailored to your legal needs.

As an adjunct professor at Genesee Community College, I constantly stress to my criminal justice students that our Bill of Rights balances the need for effective law enforcement and safety with our individual privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment. As future defenders of both, they must always be aware of which way the scale is tipping.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Florida v. Jardines, reiterated that an individual’s home is his or her “castle.” Time and time again, the Court has tended to increase our privacy rights while we are in our own homes.

It’s a proposition that I don’t disagree with — if there is somewhere we should feel free and safe, it’s in our homes. But shouldn’t we feel that same safety and freedom elsewhere? Unfortunately, to gain that safety, we will likely need to give up a little of that freedom.

Throughout our history, the balance shifts back and forth. During national security emergencies, the balance has shifted toward the need for safety — Japanese internment camps, Guantanamo Bay or even President Lincoln suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War.

Similarly, after 9/11 the balance shifted towards security, and we gave up many individual personal liberties and privacies at airports, public places and even our own libraries. Laws such as the Patriot Act gave the government tools to investigate terrorism and crime in a manner they were never allowed before. Following the recent bombing in Boston, necessary, increased security measures were taken across the country — restricted fly zones, increased searches, and extra police and military presence.

I’m not disputing that these were necessary measures; however, at times, especially in times of crisis, we forget there was a day when we didn’t voluntarily post our most intimate details online, we didn’t go through a body scanner to fly and our biggest fear at a sporting event was if we were going to lose. No matter how the scale tips, we must always be aware of what used to be on the other side of the scale.

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