Skip to comments.Court OKs warrantless use of hidden surveillance cameras
Posted on 11/01/2012 5:53:48 AM PDT by Ratman83
Police are allowed in some circumstances to install hidden surveillance cameras on private property without obtaining a search warrant, a federal judge said yesterday.
CNET has learned that U.S. District Judge William Griesbach ruled that it was reasonable for Drug Enforcement Administration agents to enter rural property without permission -- and without a warrant -- to install multiple "covert digital surveillance cameras" in hopes of uncovering evidence that 30 to 40 marijuana plants were being grown.
This is the latest case to highlight how advances in technology are causing the legal system to rethink how Americans' privacy rights are protected by law. In January, the Supreme Court rejected warrantless GPS tracking after previously rejecting warrantless thermal imaging, but it has not yet ruled on warrantless cell phone tracking or warrantless use of surveillance cameras placed on private property without permission.
Yesterday Griesbach adopted a recommendation by U.S. Magistrate Judge William Callahan dated October 9. That recommendation said that the DEA's warrantless surveillance did not violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and requires that warrants describe the place that's being searched.
"The Supreme Court has upheld the use of technology as a substitute for ordinary police surveillance," Callahan wrote.
Two defendants in the case, Manuel Mendoza and Marco Magana of Green Bay, Wis., have been charged with federal drug crimes after DEA agent Steven Curran claimed to have discovered more than 1,000 marijuana plants grown on the property, and face possible life imprisonment and fines of up to $10 million. Mendoza and Magana asked Callahan to throw out the video evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds, noting that "No Trespassing" signs were posted throughout the heavily wooded, 22-acre property owned by Magana and that it also had a locked gate.
Callahan based his reasoning on a 1984 Supreme Court case called Oliver v. United States, in which a majority of the justices said that "open fields" could be searched without warrants because they're not covered by the Fourth Amendment. What lawyers call "curtilage," on the other hand, meaning the land immediately surrounding a residence, still has greater privacy protections.
"Placing a video camera in a location that allows law enforcement to record activities outside of a home and beyond protected curtilage does not violate the Fourth Amendment," Justice Department prosecutors James Santelle and William Lipscomb told Callahan.
As digital sensors become cheaper and wireless connections become more powerful, the Justice Department's argument would allow police to install cameras on private property without court oversight -- subject only to budgetary limits and political pressure.
About four days after the DEA's warrantless installation of surveillance cameras, a magistrate judge did subsequently grant a warrant. But attorneys for Mendoza and Magana noticed that the surveillance took place before the warrant was granted.
"That one's actions could be recorded on their own property, even if the property is not within the curtilage, is contrary to society's concept of privacy," wrote Brett Reetz, Magana's attorney, in a legal filing last month. "The owner and his guest... had reason to believe that their activities on the property were not subject to video surveillance as it would constitute a violation of privacy."
A jury trial has been scheduled for January 22.
it’s ok. if you don’t have anything to hide, you should welcome our gubmint overlords.(sarc)
it’s for the children.
Yes the children, must save the children.
This would be a huge crime if done by a private citizen.
Blah, what’s the difference between this and staking out, or flying over, a property in undercover vehicles - other than it being a hell of a lot cheaper.
These days the constitution is nothing more than confetti to the government.
I can't remember the final outcome of that case. I think it probably ended when the Supreme Court ruled against warrantless tracking devices on vehicles.
The difference being that someone has to set foot ON private property without warrant and emplace a recording device.
They can surveil all the want off the private property, but in my estimation when they set foot on without warrant it is tantamount to entering your home.
Seems to me if I find cameras situated on my property, without my permission ...
And I'm free to do with them as I see fit.
And I see fit to smash them with a sledgehammer ...
Someone did that with a device placed by the FBI. The FBI went after him for theft of govt property. There was a thread here but I don’t remember all the details.
Does this mean we can install surveillance cameras and audio recording devices in The Hairy Reed’s office to monitor for crimes against the Constitution?
Which part of “entering your property without a warrant” did you not understand?
When do they open the gulags?
Thank you for throwing our 4th amendment in the garbage can, Drug Warriors.
“...I can’t remember the final outcome of that case. I think it probably ended when the Supreme Court ruled against warrantless tracking devices on vehicles....”
I can’t remember either, but I think in one of these cases, the guy took the thing down to a local truck stop and put it on an eastbound freightliner. Govt was totally pissed.
Can I just mail it back (by fourth class mail) to the US embassy in Nepal? They'll get it back in a couple of months.
“Seems to me if I find cameras situated on my property, - - - -”
Finding them could require some very sophisticated equipment considering they are probably the size of a pencil eraser and concealed in such a manner you’d never see them, even if you were looking right at them.
The feds don’t need hidden cameras to spy on folks in our neck of the woods, we live close to the border and there is a surveillance flyover at least once a day. I should probably feel safer because of it, but the fact is I am not at all comfortable with it. This whole homeland security crap created by Bush had good intent, but in the hands of obama it can be used as a gestapo-ish tool against the citizenry.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Nothing in there about spying. The government is way out bounds now.