The British Are Coming — And This Time It’s for the 4th Amendment

Only weeks ago, the British government undermined our judicial process and attacked an American company. While this may sound like front page news, almost no one reported the violation of due process or came to the defense of this company — Facebook.

American company Six4Three has been engaging in a legal battle with Facebook over API access in California. Facebook’s intra-company emails were obtained as part of the suit and were protected from disclosure by a California Court. But Britain’s government ignored the judge’s order against disclosure, therefore ignoring American law and widely held notions of the rule of law.

The move appeared to be justified as retaliation for Facebook’s rejection of an invite to testify in front of the UK Parliament’s Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) committee. We would expect this type of vengeful conduct coming from the Kremlin, not the British Parliament.

Despite calling the move “unprecedented,” DCMS committee Chairman Damian Collins stood by his decision, describing seizure of confidential business emails as a matter of “public interest.” These justice-by-any-means actions followed a PR campaign by DCMS to humiliate the leadership of Facebook.

Even figures who actually threaten British democracy have not had such action taken against them. Oligarchs who reside in London, with connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin haven’t been treated as poorly as the Americans affected by this malpractice.

Imagine visiting the UK, being detained, and having your confidential business papers confiscated and made public, all without a court order, a judicial review, or some other form of fair treatment. You would rightly feel like your rights were violated, and you would expect — in absence of other voices — your government to stand up for you. That has yet to happen in this case.

America was founded on core principals of life, liberty, as well as the rule of law. That’s why it should be alarming to every American that rather than stand up for these principles and criticize the unjust manner by which they were obtained; many journalists have feasted on leaked confidential emails in their pursuit of click-grabbing headlines. Even organizations allegedly devoted to protecting these principles, such as the ACLU, have stayed silent.

Living in an interconnected world means that actions in other countries can impact rule of law and due process domestically. This is one reason why Congress has insisted on enshrining American principles in international agreements. One example of this is the CLOUD Act — a law that allows cross-border data flows to help law enforcement with countries the U.S. has agreements with. Another is the recently released U.S., Mexico, Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) which enshrines intermediary liability protections.

It’s up to our representatives, rather than the media, to ensure that attacks on the American rule of law are not ignored. The British Parliament should be condemned for so frivolously undermining these judicial proceedings between two American companies in California.

Every American relies on our government to protect us from foreign threats — including threats to our basic principles. The integrity of our judicial process relies on our elected congressional representatives to stand up and condemn predatory and unjust actions by the British Parliament. We expect much more from our closest ally.