Orin Kerr writes:
Last week, I filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit on a very important question in high-tech crime investigations. As far as I know, the issue is a matter of first impression in any court. Here’s the question: When privacy statutes require the government to obtain a court order before collecting records or conducting surveillance, is the constitutionality of the future execution of the order ripe for adjudication at the time of the application?
That’s a mouthful, so let me try an example. Imagine you’re a federal magistrate judge. The government comes to you with an application for a court order to collect records as required by a federal privacy statute. The government has satisfied the statutory standard set by Congress. But you think that the statute is unconstitutional, and that compliance with the statute therefore will violate the Fourth Amendment. Here’s the question: Can you deny the order and issue an opinion explaining your denial based on your conclusion that the collection of the records would violate the Fourth Amendment? Or do you have to issue the order, let the government execute it, and then wait for an ex post challenge to the constitutionality of the government’s conduct?
Read more on The Volokh Conspiracy. It’s an interesting question and one that seems increasingly important in these days of government seeking Twitter or social media records on users.