6.805 | Fall 2005 | Undergraduate

Ethics and the Law on the Electronic Frontier


Assignment 4

Assignments: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

Fourth Amendment Foundations and the First Century of Electronic Surveillance

With this class, we shift gears, moving from the First Amendment implications of regulating indecent speech to the Fourth Amendment and privacy implications of electronic surveillance and searches.

Before Class


  • Semayne’s Case, an old English case from 1604.
  • Olmstead vs. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).
  • Katz vs. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).
  • Terry vs. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

How to find the Cases: Use MIT’s access to Lexis-Nexis Universe. Type the middle part of the citation (“277 U.S. 438”, “389 U.S. 347”, or “392 U.S. 1”) into the “citation” field on Lexis’s search form.

If you are off-campus, the above link might not work to get you access to Lexis-Nexis Universe. Instead, follow the directions on “Locating Judicial Opinions”, as explained in the the sample case brief in the study materials section. Alternately, you can access Lexis-Nexis from anywhere if you have an MIT certificate, by using the MIT Libraries proxy service.

There is no writing rotisserie assignment this week. Instead, we want you to request the records held about you by four entities.

  1. The federal government has a law called the Privacy Act, which says, with some exceptions, that you have the right to retrieve the records any federal agency holds that are about you. We’d like you to request the records held on you (if any) by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Follow the FBI’s Privacy Act request instructions (PDF) and fill out the Privacy Act Request Form (PDF). Put it in an envelope addressed to the FBI (at the address given), and bring the sealed envelope to class. We’ll mail it for you.
  2. Do the same for the National Security Agency’s “Operations Files.” Read the National Security Agency’s instructions, and write up a request for information held in the “Operations Files” about you. Put it in a sealed envelope addressed to:
    Office of Policy
    National Security Agency/Central Security Service
    Ft. George G. Meade, MD 20755-6000
    Bring the addressed, sealed envelope to class on Thursday, and we’ll mail it for you.
  3. MIT has a Student Information Policy that guarantees you access to your records. Make a request to the MIT Admissions Office to see your admissions record (known as your “E3 card”), including the scores you received from the MIT evaluators when you applied for admission. Bring a copy of your request to class on Thursday.
  4. The MIT Card Office has its own Privacy Policy, which describes the data retention procedures for the Office’s database of the times you have swiped your card. Make a request to the MIT Card Office under the Student Information Policy for the list of doors you have entered in the last two weeks. Bring a copy of your request to class on Thursday.