Citation Edit

United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976) (full-text).

U.S. Supreme Court Proceedings Edit

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that one does not have a constitutionally protected privacy interest in personal records held by a bank. The decision ultimately turned on the fact that the bank customer could not assert ownership of his cancelled checks. The Court held that because Miller's cancelled checks were the bank's business records, the expectation of privacy that he asserted was not reasonable.

The depositor takes the risk, in revealing his affairs to another, that the information will be conveyed by that person to the Government. This Court has held repeatedly that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party and conveyed by him to Government authorities, even if the information is revealed on the assumption that it will be used only for a limited purpose and the confidence placed in the third party will not be betrayed.[1]

The Court reached this conclusion even though most bank customers probably do have an actual expectation of privacy in those records.

As Justice Brennan stated in dissent in the 5-4 opinion:

A bank customer's reasonable expectation is that, absent a compulsion by legal process, the matters he reveals to the bank will be utilized by the bank only for internal banking purposes. . . . [A] depositor reveals many aspects of his personal affairs, opinions, habits, associations. Indeed, the totality of bank records provides a virtual current biography. . . . Development of photocopying machines, electronic computers and other sophisticated instruments have accelerated the ability of government to intrude into areas which a person normally chooses to exclude from prying eyes and inquisitive minds. Consequently, judicial interpretations of the constitutional protection of individual privacy must keep pace with the perils created by these new devices.

Subsequent Developments Edit

The year following the Miller decision, Congress passed the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978,[2] which provided "modest statutory protection for customer financial records held by financial institutions."[3]

References Edit

  1. Id. at 443 (citation omitted).
  2. 12 U.S.C. §3401.
  3. Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists: A Framework for Program Assessment, at 32.

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