Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Federal court approves use of hidden surveillance cameras on private property without warrants

End The Lie
End the Lie
November 5th, 2012
Reader Views: 1,384

Yet again, a federal judge undermined the Constitution in a wholly disturbing fashion, this time by allowing police to install hidden surveillance cameras on private property without obtaining a search warrant.

This is especially troubling since the federal government has conducted 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 that the Obama administration has fought vigorously to hold on to their ability to conduct warrantless wiretapping while also claiming that cell phone location data is not protected by the Constitution and the Supreme Court recently refused to review a lawsuit challenging the warrantless surveillance program of the National Security Agency (NSA).

According to CNET, U.S. District Judge William Griesbach ruled “that it was reasonable for Drug Enforcement Administration agents to enter rural property without permission — and without a warrant — to install multiple “covert digital surveillance cameras” in hopes of uncovering evidence that 30 to 40 marijuana [plants] were being grown.”

Griesbach’s decision was actually based on a recommendation issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge William Callahan on October 9.

Callahan’s recommendation claimed that the DEA actually did not violate the Fourth Amendment by conducting warrantless surveillance.

“The Supreme Court has upheld the use of technology as a substitute for ordinary police surveillance,” 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 “No Trespassing” 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 Magana’s property without a warrant, a magistrate judge granted a warrant for surveillance. Mendoza and Magana’s attorneys rightfully pointed out that the surveillance took place long before the warrant was actually granted.

Callahan made his recommendation based on Oliver v. United States, a 1984 Supreme Court case in which the majority of justices ruled that “open fields” 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 as curtilage.

“Placing 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,” Department of Justice prosecutors James Santelle and William Lipscomb told Callahan.

“That one’s actions could be recorded on their own property, even if the property is not within the curtilage, is contrary to society’s concept of privacy,” argued Magana’s attorney Brett Reetz in a legal filing.

“The owner and his guest
 had reason to believe that their activities on the property were not subject to video surveillance as it would constitute a violation of privacy,” Reetz added in last month’s legal filing.

Writing for CNET, Declan McCullagh paints a quite disturbing picture of where this precedent could lead.

“As digital sensors become cheaper and wireless connections become more powerful, the Justice Department’s argument would allow police to install cameras on private property without court oversight — subject only to budgetary limits and political pressure,” 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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  • Jean

    Not to muddy the waters: this would merely be the test case for Drone surveillance, moving towards realtime surveillance via drone aircraft. At that point, curtilage would cease to exist (it’s not TARGETED surveillance, after all), and we’re not allowed privacy in our homes if someone can see in the window, even from 30,000 feet.

    But the sheeple will bleat, “If you’re not a criminal, you have nothing to fear.”

    Except if you are smoking inside… Expose people to carcinogens via burning meat/oil… Endanger welfare of a child (insert trumped-up charge that actually fits the legal definition here – have a bladed weapon near them, for instance, because you’re working on dinner…)

    Truth is, we have SO MANY laws, you ARE guilty of SOMETHING, EVERY DAY. Whether you know or not doesn’t matter, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Mens Rea was thrown out, and now there’s no limit to search and seizure. At this rate, maybe 5 more years before SHTF. And when it does, there will be MANY people who will blatantly support the status quo, because everyone knows the sheeple THERE have it worse, and we don’t want to be like THERE.

    • OldGuy

      If I nodded any harder my head would pop off.

      My favorite upcoming law is the Co2 tax-law. Estimated cost of that desirable vacation property divided by your number of breaths per day equals your share. Of course if you refuse to pay it will mean others will have to breath harder and more often to carry your share of the tax. I read someplace that the cows will get the raw end of that law via a fart sensor rectally inserted and monitored by a government official with a counter. Fee per cow before the anal, I mean annual tax was around $100 dollars per head …errr… azz.

      Oppsy, I am pretty sure I just violated that law with an unauthorised voiding of my colon.

      • SKIP

        WOW, we taxpayers could balance the budget in one session of congress if such were put in each of their ass holes! IF they worked at least 3 months of the year.

  • Lon Chainee

    people should start installing their own camera’s and keep tabs on what’s going on around their property – maybe you can catch them planting a device ON your property – then you can seize it, use it for yourself, or sell it for a couple bucks.

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