Authorities now have some limited power to place hidden surveillance cameras on private property without a search warrant, thanks to a ruling by a federal judge yesterday.
The case involves two Wisconsin men who were charged with federal drug crimes after a DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agent found over 1,000 marijuana plants growing on the property. The men, who may face life imprisonment and fines of $10 million, called on the courts to throw out the video surveillance footage, citing the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. But U.S. District Judge William Griesbach considered it reasonable for the DEA to access the rural property in question — sans permission or warrant — and install the “covert digital surveillance cameras” covering the fields where the plants were allegedly being cultivated.
Citing a 1984 case, Oliver v. United States, “open fields” are not covered by the Fourth Amendment. Areas directly outside a home have greater protection, sure, but that doesn’t apply in this case.
It’s logical to offer more privacy protection, the closer you move in toward a person’s residence, but here’s the problem: That line of thinking is increasingly growing obsolete as surveillance technology advances. The range of devices that can be used is also becoming varied, to a point where each kind of tech may require its own set of precedents and laws.
The Supreme Court has rejected warrantless GPS tracking as well as thermal imaging, but cell phone tracking is still fodder for legal argument. So was the warrantless use of surveillance cameras on private property — at least until this case was decided.
Where do you stand on Fourth Amendment/privacy matters? Are you concerned about how the courts are approaching the use of technology by authorities, or do you feel that the police and other agencies should have free reign to investigate?