Federal court approves use of hidden surveillance cameras on private property without warrants
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End the Lie
November 5th, 2012
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Yet again, aÂ federal judge undermined the ConstitutionÂ in a wholly disturbing fashion, this time by allowing police to installÂ hidden surveillance camerasÂ on private property without obtaining a search warrant.
This is especially troubling since the federal government has conductedÂ more warrantless surveillance over the past two years than the entire previous decade. This court decision can only be expected to increase that already troubling number.
Let us not forget thatÂ the Obama administration has fought vigorouslyÂ to hold on to their ability to conduct warrantless wiretapping while also claiming thatÂ cell phone location data is not protected by the ConstitutionÂ and the Supreme CourtÂ recently refused to review a lawsuit challenging the warrantless surveillance program of the National Security Agency (NSA).
According toÂ CNET,Â U.S. District Judge William GriesbachÂ ruled â€śthat it was reasonable for Drug Enforcement Administration agents to enter rural property without permission â€” and without a warrant â€” to install multiple â€ścovert digital surveillance camerasâ€ť in hopes of uncovering evidence that 30 to 40 marijuana [plants] were being grown.â€ť
Griesbachâ€™s decision was actually based on a recommendation issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge William Callahan on October 9.
Callahanâ€™s recommendation claimed that the DEA actually did not violate the Fourth Amendment by conducting warrantless surveillance.
â€śThe Supreme Court has upheld the use of technology as a substitute for ordinary police surveillance,â€ť wrote Callahan in his recommendation.
The case surrounds Manuel Mendoza and Marco Magana of Green Bay, Wis. Both Mendoza and Magana have been charged with federal drug crimes that carry potential fines of up to $10 million along with life in prison.
Steven Curran, a DEA agent, claimed he discovered over 1,000 marijuana plants on a 22-acre heavily wooded property owned by Magana. The defendants called on Callahan to throw out the video evidence collected by the DEA based on the fact that there were â€śNo Trespassingâ€ť signs posted throughout the property along with a locked gate, thus making the evidence collected a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Around four days after the DEA installed the surveillance cameras on Maganaâ€™s property without a warrant, a magistrate judge granted a warrant for surveillance. Mendoza and Maganaâ€™sÂ attorneysÂ rightfully pointed out that the surveillance took place long before the warrant was actually granted.
Callahan made his recommendation based onÂ Oliver v. United States,Â a 1984 Supreme Court case in which the majority of justices ruled that â€śopen fieldsâ€ť could indeed be searched without obtaining a warrant. They based this decision on their claim that open fields are not actually covered by the Fourth Amendment.
If the land is immediately surrounding a residence, on the other hand, it has greater privacy protections based on a legal concept known asÂ curtilage.
â€śPlacing 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,â€ť Department of Justice prosecutors James Santelle and William Lipscomb told Callahan.
â€śThat oneâ€™s actions could be recorded on their own property, even if the property is not within the curtilage, is contrary to societyâ€™s concept of privacy,â€ť argued Maganaâ€™sÂ attorneyÂ Brett Reetz in a legal filing.
â€śThe owner and his guestâ€¦ had reason to believe that their activities on the property were not subject toÂ video surveillanceÂ as it would constitute a violation of privacy,â€ť Reetz added in last monthâ€™s legal filing.
Writing for CNET, Declan McCullagh paints a quite disturbing picture of where this precedent could lead.
â€śAs digital sensors become cheaper and wireless connections become more powerful, the Justice Departmentâ€™s argument would allow police to install cameras on private property without court oversight â€” subject only to budgetary limits and political pressure,â€ť McCullagh writes.
The ugly reality is that legal precedents such as these serve to reinforce the constant erosion of our most essential rights. So long as judges continue to support the consistent undermining of our Constitutional rights, this disturbing trend will undoubtedly continue and will likely get significantly worse.
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