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How Can Teens Be Reasonable? Reasonable Expectations of Privacy in the Digital Age

Lori A Hoetger, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The Fourth Amendment only protects against government intrusions into spaces or information that receive a reasonable expectation of privacy—a subjective expectation of privacy that society is willing to recognize as reasonable (Katz v. United States, 1967). Judges are tasked with determining when a reasonable expectation of privacy exists. But as evidenced by justices’ confusion at oral arguments in recent Supreme Court cases, judges do not always fully grasp new technology. The current dissertation aims to guide courts attempting to navigate the new terrain of expectations of privacy in wired communications. Scholars have expressed concern over the impact the ubiquity of wired communications may have on our expectation of privacy (Leary, 2011). Three studies in the current dissertation examine the role age, experience with wired communications, and developmental decision making play in expectations of privacy. Study 1 compares adolescents’ expectations of privacy to judicial decisions of whether a search violated the Fourth Amendment. Consistent with prior research on lay adults’ expectations (Slobogin & Schumacher, 1993), adolescent participants agree with judges on extreme violations of privacy, but there are significant disagreement about several types of searches. Study 2 asks participants to evaluate the privacy implications of various searches and examines whether these perceptions vary as a function of age, experience with social networking sites, impulsivity, or sensation seeking. All three categories of variables—age, experience, and developmental decision making—had different effects on privacy concerns. Finally, Study 3 measures adolescent and young adult participants’ perception of the risk of sharing information online as participants create a profile on a “new” social networking site. Participants do not appear to view the decision to share information as a risk and the amount of information shared publicly was not related to age, experience with social networking sites, or developmental decision making. The results of the current study can be valuable in understanding how expectations of privacy change over time. As we move our lives increasingly online, the Fourth Amendment must also evolve to continue to protect privacy interests.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Hoetger, Lori A, "How Can Teens Be Reasonable? Reasonable Expectations of Privacy in the Digital Age" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10932741.