Many people refer to the Third amendment as useless, by claiming that no one in this day and age has to worry about your home being turned into a training barracks. I think that statements like this miss the point of the Third Amendment.
This amendment was considered important enough to be the third listed
protection in the bill of rights, right after the freedom to associate
with other citizens, speak out against abuse, and to keep arms to resist
tyranny. In the colonial era, the practice of billeting British troops in
private homes was a widespread. One of the complaints against King
George III in the Declaration of Independence was “for quartering large
bodies of armed troops among us.”
Why do you suppose King George III did this, and why do you suppose the
colonists were so upset about it? It is a fairly effective form of
intimidation: putting an agent of the State inside the houses of people
whom the State considers “troublesome.” Having an agent of the State
live with the troublemakers has an absolutely chilling effect, and most
especially when the agents start abusing the power—”pushing the
envelope,” as such agents so often do. This would have been known to
the authors of the Bill of Rights. The Third Amendment was put there to
prevent just this sort of thing.
It was impossible for the founders to foresee the advent of
electronics, video cameras, microphone “bugs” and the like, but the
fact remains the same: the presence of agents of the State present in
people’s homes, intimidating them by their very presence, and by their
presence also enforcing the State’s policies, as well as reporting any opposition towards the State has a chilling effect on the liberties that we hold so dear, whether the government agent is present, or is merely “virtually” present.
The news that the government has been listening to our communications comes as no real surprise to anyone that has been paying attention: they have been eroding our freedoms for decades.