Privacy Rights In The United States

Federal vs. State Governments

Term Paper, 2015

9 Pages, Grade: A


1. Introduction

For centuries the governance of the United States of America has been divided into two systems of governments. These are the Federal Government or the National Government and the State Governments. In this system of government, power is delegated from the Central Government to the Devolved or State governments. Despite this system having existed for many years now, there have been problems associated with sharing of power between these two forms of governments. This dates back to the earlier days when the Founding Fathers saw the need to have two governments. The idea of federalism came as a result of the newly independent states in the Americas merging together to achieve some intended social, political and economic objectives which they could not achieve could they have decided to go as independent states with their own machinery(Hail, M., & Lange, S., (2010).

These States had just separated themselves from the British colonialists and therefore they had to find a way to come together as independent states and run their own affairs. They saw it necessary to have a body that would represent all the new states. That is when the idea of federal governments came up. It was important to have one union that would work for the betterment of the diverse needs of the American people (United States Department of State). As a result, federalism was seen as the only way to have a strong united system that would properly balance the rights of the many States and ensure the needs of the national government are met at the same time. This was the main reason why the states came together. They could not manage some of activities they used to see only the British Colonial government do. States felt overwhelmed hence the need for a federal government.

Federalism was achieved and was entrenched in the United States Constitution after the proposal and approval of the leaders of the different states. Roles of the federal government were provided for and those of the State Governments were also provided for. Since then, there have existed laws that can only be enforced by the states and those laws that can be only enforced by the federal government. As such, the United States Supreme Law limits the jurisdiction of the federal government to powers granted to it by the constitution (Article 1 Section 9). Any other action taken by the federal government that is not provided for by the Constitution would be thus a violation of the same Constitution. Other powers that are not expressly granted to the Federal Government are thus left toStates Government to enforce. Of great concern however, is the right to privacy. This has been a contentious issue as many have known and still believe that a person’s privacy should be respected at both levels of government. Despite the fact that everyone is entitled to their own privacy, there are breaches of this fundamental right calling for concern over the crucial right that is being violated by different players in the economy (Murphy, E., 2013).

Despite the fact that the Privacy Act protects and regulates what the federal government should have on ones’ personal information, the contrary is what the truth is. That is why it would be not surprising to discover the great deal of personal information the national government has about the citizens. Whenever anyone transacts anything through Social Security Cards among other means, the federal government is bound to know. If one makes any transaction through banks, government organizations and any other firm, it should not come to someone’s surprise to find that entire person’s information stored in government databases. From the aforementioned sentences, it is evident that the federal government is going overboard and is violating the individual rights the people should be freely enjoying as a fundamental right provided for by the Constitution. This paper therefore seeks to discuss the involvement of the federal government in matters privacy against the consent and provisions of the Constitution which is the supreme law of the land. It would therefore be essential to discuss this as the federal government may be assuming extra powers that the founding fathers and the anti-federalists never wished the central government had as this, according to them, would give the central government more power than necessary.

2. Implications For Federalism On Privacy Rights

There are rights and duties of each and every individual in the United States. This goes from rights of legal persons such as corporations and natural persons. In the case of firms operating security surveillance, they have to observe their rights as bodies corporate as well the rights of their clients who are citizens with rights to privacy and other protected liberties. However, the challenge comes when the subject changes to who has the right to oversee security matters at State level. Most of the States that form The United States of America have their laws on privacyand laws concerning protectioncivil liberties. The privacy laws made by States are superior to those by federal government. It therefore raises concern over the manner with which the federal government is involving itself in privacy matters of individuals in a particular state when the States have laws on that.

The federal law enforcement agents were seen to be ready to use any means to further their activities. However, State Courts have been there to protect the peoples’ right to privacy. For instance in the case of Olmstead vs. United States (1928), law enforcement authorities used crooked means to find evidence that was used to convict someone who was having a conversation in his own compound. The police had installed recorders in the accused’s basement and as a result he was recorded conspiring to commit a crime. The accused was found guilty as the Federal Court found that his rights under the fourth amendment had not been violated. From Olmstead’s case we can see how far federal agents are willing to go behind the backs of individuals and spy on them to achieve their interests even if it means violating a people’s direct privacy.

It follows therefore that federalism is not good when it comes to protection of privacy rights. This is because it uses illegal means to obtain information that would otherwise be considered private in most circumstances. No wonder the possible violation of peoples’ privacy was avoided in Katz v. United States (1967) by the Supreme Court when it made a proper definition for what constituted a search. The court in Katz case recognized that the Fourth Amendment does not protect places but individuals, and stated that a search would occur whenever the state interferes with a person’s reasonable space where the person expects to be enjoying his right to privacy. It should not be the sole role of state governments to legislate on and enforce privacy protection laws. This is because the governments at local or state may infringe on their citizens’ rights to privacy a matter that needs to be well discussed between the two levels of governments. Federalism is a good idea when it comes to giving power to the local governments. It makes it easy for big countries like the United States to manage itself by delegating power to the state governments to manage their small states. This is mainly because such states are more close to the people as compared with federal or central governments. In order to highlight the implications that federalism would have on privacy rights, I would have to mention some of the crucial benefits associated with federalism. These are that federalism:

- Brings people close to their leaders thus fostering loyalty and connectedness of people to their governments.
- As said before, federalism makes it easier for officials to highlight and solve problems. This is because local leaders are able to make and implement proper policies that would be efficient in solving local problems.
- Federalism promotes political stability as it allows each state to govern its own people using its own laws an aspect that would be hard for one large country that has different caliber of persons.
- Lastly federalism promotes separation of powers and avoidance of instances of tyranny. This is an important element in ensuring the liberty of the people is not interfered with.

In view of the above, it follows that federalism, apart from achieving other better purposes for the sake of the local people; it also plays a better role in ensuring that people decide for themselves what they want to be a law that affects their privacy. Federalism with regards to privacy is therefore a better idea as it would involve the people in deciding what they want. It would be a better idea if this would be allowed by all the people being monitored. People would choose what extent of their private life may be made available for either security or political purposes. This should however not be done at the expense of peoples’ privacy rights protected by the overall constitution just because the federal government is not allowed to interfere with States way of operation.

Many problems however, arise when the private information that is allowed to be collected is exceeded to the extent of digging into people’s privacy. In the quest to ensure proper laws and policies, states may go extra miles to obtain private information about individuals. Federalism may come with extreme monitoring of the locals leading to violation of peoples’ right to privacy, a factor highlighted by the Fourth Amendment. Sometimes, the problem would not be in obtaining such information but sharing that information with many other agencies that would end up knowing more than what the law permits. It would thus mean that everyone’s information would be available to anyone unless advancement in technology is tamed to protect the privacy right of the people.


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Privacy Rights In The United States
Federal vs. State Governments
Constitutional Law
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privacy, rights, united, states, federal, state, governments
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Counsel Mayabi (Author), 2015, Privacy Rights In The United States, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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