Recently in our article, “The Right to Privacy of Correspondence Is Inviolate“, we wrote:
The constitutions of many other countries guarantee and protect the privacy of correspondence. The United States does not.
Here is a listing of some of the rights in the constitutions of other countries:
The Belgian Constitution, dating from 1831, contains the protection of letters in the postal service:
Article 22 Everyone has the right to the respect of his private and family life, except in the cases and conditions determined by the law.
Aritcle 29 The confidentiality of letters is inviolable. The law determines which officials may violate the confidentiality of letters entrusted to the postal service.
Other laws have specified how these rights are applied in a digital age. Surveillance or wire taping requires a judge’s order. More importantly orders are limited to a length of one month.
The Italian Constitution reads:
Article 14 The home is inviolable.
Inspections or searches or seizures may not be carried out except in cases and manner prescribed by law in accordance with the guarantees prescribed for safeguarding personal freedom.
Controls and inspections for reasons of public health and safety or for economic and fiscal purposes are regulated by special laws.
Article 15 The freedom and secrecy of correspondence and of every other form of communication is inviolable.
Restriction thereto may be imposed only by warrant which gives the reasons issued by a judicial authority with the guarantees established by law.
Section 72 of the The Danish Constitution reads:
The dwelling shall be inviolable. House searching, seizure, and examination of letters and other papers as well as any breach of the secrecy to be observed in postal, telegraph, and telephone matters shall take place only under a judicial order unless particular exception is warranted by Statute.
The Estonian Constitution reads:
Article 42 No state or local government authority or their officials may collect or store information on the persuasions of any Estonian citizen against his or her free will.
Article 43 Everyone shall be entitled to secrecy of messages transmitted by him or to him by post, telegram, telephone or other generally used means. Exceptions may be made on authorization by a court, in cases and in accordance with procedures determined by law in order to prevent a criminal act or for the purpose of establishing facts in a criminal investigation.
Article 44 (3) Estonian citizens shall have the right to become acquainted with information about themselves held by state and local government authorities and in state and local government archives, in accordance with procedures determined by law. This right may be restricted by law in order to protect the rights and liberties of other persons, and the secrecy of children’s ancestry, as well as to prevent a crime, or in the interests of apprehending a criminal or to clarify the truth for a court case.
The Finnish Constitution includes:
Everyone’s private life, honour and the sanctity of the home are guaranteed. More detailed provisions on the protection of personal data are laid down by an Act.
The secrecy of correspondence, telephony and other confidential communications is inviolable.
Measures encroaching on the sanctity of the home, and which are necessary for the purpose of guaranteeing basic rights and liberties or for the investigation of crime, may be laid down by an Act. In addition, provisions concerning limitations of the secrecy of communications which are necessary in the investigation of crimes that jeopardise the security of the individual or society or the sanctity of the home, at trials and security checks, as well as during the deprivation of liberty may be laid down by an Act.
The Greek Constitution reads:
Article 9 1. Every person’s home is a sanctuary. The private and family life of the individual is inviolable. No home search shall be made, except when and as specified by law and always in the presence of representatives of the judicial power.
2. Violators of the preceding provision shall be punished for violating the home’s asylum and for abuse of power, and shall be liable for full damages to the ufferer, as specified by law.
Article 19 Secrecy of letters and all other forms of free correspondence or communication shall be absolutely inviolable. The guaranties under which the judicial authority shall not be bound by this secrecy for reasons of national security or for the purpose of investigating especially serious crimes, shall be specified by law.
Article 71 of The Iceland Constitution includes:
Everyone shall enjoy freedom from interference with privacy, home, and family life.
Bodily or personal search or a search of a person’s premises or possessions may only be conducted in accordance with a judicial decision or a statutory law provision. This shall also apply to the examination of documents and mail, communications by telephone and other means, and to any other comparable interference with a person’s right to privacy.
Article 34 of the The Bulgarian Constitution reads:
(1) The freedom and confidentiality of correspondence and all other communications shall be inviolable.
(2) Exceptions to this provision shall be allowed only with the permission of the judicial authorities for the purpose of discovering or preventing a grave crime.
7 (1) Inviolability of the person and of privacy is guaranteed. It may be limited only in cases specified by law.
10 (1) Everybody is entitled to protection of his or her human dignity, personal integrity, good reputation, and his or her name.
10 (2) Everybody is entitled to protection against unauthorized interference in his or her personal and family life.
10 (3) Everybody is entitled to protection against unauthorized gathering, publication or other misuse of his or her personal data.
13 Nobody may violate secrecy of letters and other papers and records whether privately kept or sent by post or in another manner, except in cases and in a manner specified by law. Similar protection is extended to messages communicated by telephone, telegraph or other such facilities.
10. the privacy, private life, honor and image of persons are inviolable
12. the secrecy of correspondence and of telegraphic, data and telephone communications is inviolable, except, in the latter case, by court order, in the cases and in the manner prescribed by law for the purposes of criminal investigation or criminal procedural finding of facts;
Article 19 of the Chilean Constitution reads:
4. Respect for and protection of private and public life and the honor of the individual and his family.
5. Inviolability of homes and all forms of private communication. Homes may be searched and private communications and documents intercepted, opened or inspected only in the case and in the manner prescribed for by law;
The Japanese Constitution reads:
Article 21. Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.
No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated.
Article 35. The right of all persons to be secure in their homes, papers and effects against entries, searches and seizures shall not be impaired except upon warrant issued for adequate cause and particularly describing the place to be searched and things to be seized, or except as provided by Article 33.
Each search or seizure shall be made upon separate warrant issued by a competent judicial officer.
The South Korean Constitution reads:
Article 16 [Home, Search, Seizure]
All citizens are free from intrusion into their place of residence. In case of search or seizure in a residence, a warrant issued by a judge upon request of a prosecutor has to be presented.
Article 17 [Privacy]
The privacy of no citizen may be infringed.
Article 18 [Secrecy of Correspondence]
The secrecy of correspondence of no citizen may be infringed.
The Hong Kong Constitution includes the following
Article 29 The homes and other premises of Hong Kong residents shall be inviolable. Arbitrary or unlawful search of, or intrusion into, a resident’s home or other premises shall be prohibited.
Article 30 The freedom and privacy of communications of Hong Kong residents shall be protected by law. No department or individual may, on any grounds, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of communications of residents except that the relevant authorities may inspect communications in accordance with legal procedures to meet the needs of public security or of investigation into criminal offenses.
Even the former Soviet Union’s constitution included among their fundamental rights of its citizens the right to privacy of correspondence:
ARTICLE 128. The inviolability of the homes of citizens and privacy of correspondence are protected by law.
Our natural right to the privacy of correspondence should be neither increased nor decreased by either enumerating it or leaving it unenumerated.
However, the American court system today treats enumerated rights very differently from unenumerated rights. Our rights enumerated in the Constitution serve as a paper barrier. Government intrusions on those written words have rallied public outcry more effectively than invasions on our unenumerated natural rights.
Because we don’t have an enumerated right to the privacy of correspondence, the government can claim that the Fourth Amendment, which guards us against unreasonable search and seizure, doesn’t apply in this case. Or they can rewrite legislation that provides loopholes to allow their currently employed technologies. Or they can reroute information outside the country for content review by the intelligence community of one of our allies. In essence they can choose to declare legal whatever they want and continue to operate under the veneer of legality.
Wondering what you can do to Support the Right to Privacy of Correspondence in the United States?