High-Tech Snooping

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Mar 4, 2001.

  1. Opinion
    Source: New York Times

    The Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches was crafted by the Constitution's framers to create a barrier against government intrusions on Americans' privacy. An important case argued recently in the Supreme Court tests the continued vitality of that protection in the face of high-tech snooping devices that make it increasingly possible to monitor activities inside a person's home without any physical intrusion.

    The case concerns a thermal imaging device used by federal officers in Oregon to confirm their suspicion that a man was illegally growing marijuana. The device detected the distinctive heat pattern generated by high-intensity lamps used to accelerate the growth of the plants. At issue is whether the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by failing to obtain a warrant before aiming the thermal imager at the house.
    The government argues that no privacy right attaches to the "waste heat" the device measures and that the images the device generates are too murky to reveal detailed or "intimate" information. But the information the government obtains need not be intimate to constitute a violation of privacy. The important point is that the government was not deploying the device merely to measure heat loss, but to obtain information about activities inside a private home.

    Under court precedents, someone who conducts business in front of open window shades has forfeited any expectation of privacy. But it would be an extraordinary leap for the justices to conclude, as did the lower court, that Americans waive their right to privacy in their homes by failing to take precautions to block the escape of "waste" heat.

    Some 34 years ago, the court recognized the privacy threat posed by technological advances in surveillance tools by requiring police to obtain a search warrant before placing a listening device on the outside of a phone booth where someone was conducting a bookmaking business. Today a new generation of snooping tools is expanding the government's ability to stealthily obtain confidential information. Whether the Fourth Amendment's core privacy values survive these advances is now up to the justices.

    Source: New York Times (NY)
    Published: March 3, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
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