Garbage Pails and Puppy Dog Tails: Is that What Katz is Made of?

60 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2007

See all articles by Aya Gruber

Aya Gruber

University of Colorado Law School


In this Article, Professor Gruber takes the opportunity of Katz's fortieth anniversary to assess whether the revolutionary case's potential to provide broad and flexible privacy protection to individuals has been realized. Answering this question in a circumspect "no," Professor Gruber pinpoints the language in Katz that was its eventual undoing and demonstrates how the Katz test has been plagued by two principle problems that have often rendered it more harmful to than protective of privacy. The "manipulation problem" describes the tendency of conservative courts to describe "reasonable" privacy expectations as lower than the expectations society actually entertains. The "normativity problem" captures the idea that the Katz test allows reasonable expectations to be set by those who engage in disfavored privacy defeating conduct. The Article then concentrates on two specific doctrines exemplary of these problems, the third party doctrine and the contraband exception, and discusses their ruinous effects on privacy in a technological era. The third party doctrine, which roughly holds that third party exposure defeats privacy interests, has severely hampered the ability of the Katz test to afford Fourth Amendment protection to intimate online communications. Likewise, the contraband exception, which holds that there is no legitimate expectation of privacy in illegal items, proves exceedingly dangerous to privacy as crime detection technology becomes increasingly refined. In the end, however, Professor Gruber does not advocate "trashing" the Katz test, but rather suggests methods of interpretation that remedy the manipulation and normativity problems.

Keywords: Katz, privacy, criminal procedure, Greenwood, Caballes, internet, surveillance

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Gruber, Aya, Garbage Pails and Puppy Dog Tails: Is that What Katz is Made of?. UC Davis Law Review, 2008, Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-13, Available at SSRN:

Aya Gruber (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States
(303) 492-8441 (Phone)


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