High-tech Snooping Threatens Our Privacy
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution states:
The right of the people to be secure in their person's 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.
The Fourth Amendment values privacy in the home and protects people's privacy from unlawful search and invasion.
This topic interests me because I am concerned about the recent use of thermal imaging and the ways it could be used to invade the average citizen's privacy. Thermal imaging devices allows police to view heat as a visible light image. When police use this technique as a means of gathering evidence before a warrant is obtained, it can be said to violate our guaranteed Fourth Amendment rights under the Constitution.
In the recent Supreme Court case, Kyllo v. United Sates, "the Supreme Court held that police use of a thermal imaging device to scan a suspect's residence violated his right under the Fourth Amendment. The decision had reversed a federal appeals court ruling finding the scan lawful" (Is warrantless?).
In the case cited, police suspected Kyllo was growing marijuana in his home. They used a thermal imaging device from across the street to scan Kyllo's home to see if the level of heat escaping from it was consistent with high-intensity lights used to grow marijuana indoors. The result of the scan showed that portions of Kyllo's home were relatively hot compared to the rest of his home. Using the result of the scan, as well as other information, police obtained a warrant to search Kyllo's home, and found a marijuana-growing operation in their search.
When the trial court refused to suppress the evidence, Kyllo appealed to the federal court and challenged the legality of the search, saying a search warrant should have been obtained prior to using the thermal imaging device. Law-enforcement officials argued that a warrant was not required before a using technological surveillance device that merely records information about a home that is exposed to public view.
The federal appeals court affirmed the trial court's decision, finding that Kyllo had no subjective expectation of privacy because he did not try to conceal the heat escaping from his home. Even if he had, the appeals court said, there was no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy because the thermal imager did not expose any intimate details of Kyllo's life, only vague hot spots on his home's exterior.