Warrantless surveillance: When the police need policing

| December 23, 2013

Undercover video footage that took down Latin King gangster Alexander “Pacman” Vargas in November was suppressed in the case against him. In the Amicus brief submitted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), it was argued that the pole camera, installed across the street from Vargas’s house, used for month-long surveillance was warrantless and violated the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Surveillance camera

You are being watched. From Retro Rebel Design

The camera, which pointed to the front door and driveway, was controlled remotely from the police station. Although the intention was to record any criminal activity, the police were, in the process, keeping track of anyone who visited, making them privy to personal information citizens would not divulge voluntarily.

“…the Fourth Amendment demanded that the officers obtained a search warrant before monitoring Vargas’s home for a month. Any other rule would allow the police free reign to silently watch and record those they dislike, waiting for someone to inevitably commit one of the myriad federal crimes. Thus, this Court must suppress both the video evidence and the fruits of the illegal surveillance.” (Source: eff.org)

Invasive surveillance in the name of fighting crime

Several cases, including this one, illuminate the invasive culture brewing among law enforcement officers. What’s more, conflicting rulings on the issue don’t set any clear boundaries for snooping.

Slate reports that “in California v. Ciraolo (1986), the Supreme Court upheld the warrantless aerial surveillance of an individual’s marijuana garden, located in his backyard and protected from ground-level view by tall fences. The Supreme Court reasoned that “any member of the public flying in this airspace who glanced down could have seen everything that these officers observed,” and found that the Fourth Amendment did not require a warrant for what was “visible to the naked eye.”

In November of this year, a Somali-American man was convicted for attempting to detonate a fertilizer bomb at Portland’s annual tree-lighting ceremony. Feds admitted that the evidence against him was gathered through wiretapping obtained from a secret panel of judges in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendment (FISA) court. Until now, prosecutors were not required to disclose such information. The sentence hearing of the suspect has now been indefinitely halted.

Courts tighten leash on government’s unconstitutional surveillance

A recent policy shift in the Justice Department now requires the government to issue notice to defendants of surveillance under the 2008 FISA law, a requirement that delayed the above hearing.

Growing concerns, among the public and the court, about insidious use of technology (satellite technology, drones, mesh networks, etc.) by the government have even given birth to some new introductions to the law.

Electronic Frontier Foundation reports, “Law enforcement must make additional showings to the court — similar to those necessary to obtain authorization to wiretap a phone call — before engaging in covert video surveillance.”

Given Congress’ reluctance to put a leash on privacy issues facing American citizens, several states have passed more than 24 privacy laws. Most of them concern data mining via the web while others limit the use of drones for surveillance.

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Category: Privacy, Surveillance, Technology

About the Author ()

Kanika is a literature admirer, art lover, and a freelance content developer for SmartSign. She holds bachelor degrees in life sciences and education and as well as a masters degree in zoology. She is passionate about exploring and writing on various subjects including environment, life sciences, jewelry, fashion and education. She is also an active theater and radio artiste, a dancer by passion and a social worker who is associated with a couple of local and international NGOs. Kanika lives in the beautiful city of Jaipur, India.

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