When an officer attaches a video camera to a utility pole and uses it to monitor a suspect’s home continuously for several months, is that a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment? Or is it just the officer seeing what any passer-by might see, such that there is no intrusion on the suspect’s reasonable expectation of privacy? This issue has been a focal point of litigation since Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct. 2206 (2018), which held that the long-term collection of historical cell site location information is so intrusive that it is a search, even though any individual piece of such data does not belong to the phone’s user and is not subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Whether the rationale of Carpenter extends to pole cameras has been addressed before on this blog, most recently here and here by Shea Denning. But there are a number of new cases in this area, which I have summarized below.
Many law enforcement officers, including those in five of North Carolina’s six largest cities, are or soon will be wearing body cameras. The prevailing view is that the use of such cameras doesn’t constitute a Fourth Amendment search because the cameras record only what an officer is already able to see. This post considers whether the increasing adoption of body cameras and other data-collection technologies could eventually result in body camera recordings being considered searches under the so-called mosaic theory of the Fourth Amendment.