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.
This post is the second in a series examining the impact of Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct 2206 (2018) on electronic surveillance and the obtaining of location and other types of information from third parties. The first post in this series summarized post-Carpenter decisions relating to surveillance by pole camera and tower dumps. This post examines post-Carpenter rulings on the obtaining of real-time surveillance information through satellite-based Global Positioning System data (GPS) or cell site location information (CSLI). The last post in this series will examine the use of cell site simulators and the obtaining of other information about a person’s on-line activities or accounts from third parties.
Two years have passed since the Supreme Court held in Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct. 2206 (2018), that the government carried out a Fourth Amendment search when it obtained historical cell site location information (CSLI) for the defendant’s phone from a wireless carrier. Relying in part on the view expressed by five concurring justices in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012), that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whole of their physical movements, the court determined that allowing the government access to at least seven days of historical cell-site records contravenes that expectation, even when the records are generated for commercial purposes and held by a third party.
The Carpenter majority characterized its decision as “a narrow one” and noted that it was not expressing a view on “real-time CSLI or ‘tower dumps,’” disturbing the traditional application of the third-party doctrine, or “call[ing] into question conventional surveillance techniques and tools, such as security cameras.” Id. at 2220. Dissenting justices, in contrast, characterized the court’s reasoning as “fractur[ing] two fundamental pillars of Fourth Amendment law,” and “guarantee[ing] a blizzard of litigation while threatening many legitimate and valuable investigative practices upon which law enforcement has rightfully come to rely.” Id. at 2247. (Alito, J., dissenting).
Lower courts have applied and distinguished Carpenter in a number of cases involving electronic surveillance and the obtaining of location and other types of information from third parties. This post, the first in a three-part series, summarizes post-Carpenter decisions relating to surveillance by pole camera and tower dumps. The second post in this series will examine post-Carpenter rulings on the obtaining of real-time surveillance through GPS or CSLI. The third post will consider the use of cell site simulators and the obtaining of other information about a person’s on-line activities or accounts from third parties. After reading all three, you can decide for yourself whether Carpenter’s progeny has bolstered the majority’s view of its limitations or has borne out the dissent’s warnings regarding its reach.
Placing a video camera on a utility pole and conducting surveillance can be a useful law enforcement tool to gather information without requiring an in-person presence by officers at all times. But this tool may be subject to the Fourth Amendment restrictions. This post reviews the evolving case law, particularly since the United States Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012).
Jeff Welty in a 2013 post reviewed video surveillance generally, not just pole cameras, and discussed Jones and the few cases decided in light of its ruling. This post, after reviewing Jones, will discuss a few pole camera cases decided in federal courts since his post and whether officers should seek approval from a court before conducting pole camera surveillance.
More and more criminal cases involve video evidence, whether from patrol car dash cameras, store surveillance cameras, witness cell phone cameras, or, in the near future, wearable cameras. It’s important to know the authentication requirements for such evidence. A recent court of appeals case sets a high bar for admissibility.
Maybe so, according to a recent Reuters report. Apparently, the Special Operations Division of the DEA receives information from the NSA and passes it to DEA field agents. The agents then begin criminal investigations based on the information. There are two possible problems with the program described by Reuters. End run around privacy protections. First, … Read more
Law enforcement use of automated license plate readers has become very widespread. It raises several interesting legal and practical issues which I briefly explore below. What are they? License plate readers are electronic devices – basically, enhanced cameras – that scan each passing car, detect the license plate, read it, and record it. The devices … Read more
There’s been quite a buzz lately about Google Glass, a “wearable computer” that looks like a pair of eyeglasses but that uses the lenses as transparent screens to display information to the user. (For example, the user might have CNN headlines constantly scrolling on the edge of the screen, or might have the glasses show … Read more
Lots of interesting developments in the news recently. The Tar Heels won another women’s soccer national championship, and the United States finally got a favorable draw for the World Cup. Oops, wrong kind of news. Anyhow, recent criminal law happenings include: 1. Wired magazine reports that one-third of young people engage in “sexting,” a behavior … Read more