Friday, November 16, 2012
Court Approves Warrantless Police Surveillance Cameras
Judge William Griesbach ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was legally permitted to install hidden cameras on rural private property without a warrant. The DEA’s purpose for installing the multiple cameras was to obtain evidence in a large-scale marijuana growing operation. Five Marinette County residents were charged last July with violating federal drugs laws after more 1,000 marijuana plants were discovered. Council for the defendants attempted to have video surveillance excluded from evidence under the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unfair governmental searches and seizures. But the defense’s argument did little to convince Judge Griesbach to not admit the tapes.
The charges were the result of an extensive two-month drug investigation, which culminated in a bust last summer involving over 200 federal and state police. While things are not looking too good for the defendants, one wonders what effects Judge Griesbach’s ruling will have on future criminal investigation and litigation. U.S. Magistrate Judge William Callahan admitted the video evidence on grounds that, “The Supreme Court has upheld the use of technology as a substitute for ordinary police surveillance.” Judge Callahan cited a 1984 Supreme Court case, Oliver v. United States, in which the court ruled the government’s intrusion on an open area constituted trespass at common law, but did was not “search” protected by the fourth amendment. 466 U.S. 170, 184 (1984).
However, Judge Griesbach’s ruling was contrary to the Supreme Court’s decision last January. In the previous case, the Supreme Court held that installing GPS tracking devices without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on warrantless cell phone tracking devices but the hot-button issue is currently before the Court. While Judge Griesbach’s ruling will likely not influence the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision, it may have a significant impact on future evidentiary hearings regarding police surveillance.
As stated previously, the use of covert digital surveillance cameras without a warrant is just one of many technological surveillance innovations garnering attention in the courts. Police monitoring evokes legitimate concerns for Fourth Amendment rights but the increasing police surveillance is also a violation of ordinary citizens’ privacy rights. The objectives of the police may be to ensure public well being, but those objectives must be cautious not to strip the public of fundamental rights in the process. As technology advances, the capabilities of police surveillance will expand and the degree of privacy invasion we allow in exchange for peacekeeping purposes remains to be seen.
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