The General Assembly clearly was preparing for the future in June 2017 when it enacted regulations governing the operation of fully autonomous vehicles. Just two-and-a-half years later, that future has arrived on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus. There, students, staff and visitors to campus can take a ride with CASSI, a driverless vehicle. Continue reading
Tag Archives: technology
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 a list of nearby coffee shops.) One feature of Glass that has received considerable attention is its ability to record still photos and video. Privacy advocates are concerned that it will usher in an era of ubiquitous recording, of constant surveillance. But isn’t that era already upon us?
Consider some of the technologies already in use by law enforcement:
- In-car cameras, currently installed in almost three quarters of state police and highway patrol vehicles, as noted here in The Police Chief
- Wearable cameras, discussed in this New York Times article (the article refers specifically to camera glasses made by Taser, such as the AXON Flex, shown here)
- Stationary surveillance cameras, which are present in virtually every major city as discussed here in the Wall Street Journal and here in the Newark Star-Ledger
- License plate readers, which have been deployed in Raleigh according to this WRAL article
- Surveillance drones, discussed in this CBS News piece
And don’t forget that most officers and civilians alike carry cell phones everywhere they go, and that most cell phones are capable of recording still photos and video.
The prevalence of recording devices raises a number of legal questions, from Fourth Amendment concerns to discovery issues. On the latter point, consider, for example, when footage from a stationary surveillance camera becomes part of the “file” that must be disclosed to the defense during discovery. Is it when an investigating officer saves a copy of the footage to his or her computer? When the officer views the footage, even if he or she does not save a copy? When footage within a certain time and distance from the time and scene of the crime is recorded, regardless of whether an officer ever views it?
For now, I’d like to abstract away from particular legal issues and ask for comments on a few more general questions:
- First, which recording technologies are showing up most often in court here in North Carolina?
- Second, are the recordings working more often in favor of the state or the defense?
- Third, where do you turn for help with the legal and practical issues presented by recording technology? Are there references or experts that, for example, law enforcement agencies turn to when deciding whether to implement wearable cameras? Are there resources that lawyers used when litigating the Fourth Amendment issues presented by these technologies?
I may have more to say about these issues in the future, but at this point I’m interested in hearing others’ views.
I’m more interested than the average person in the intersection between criminal law and emerging technologies. Several blog-worthy stories in that area have developed over the last few days.
First, it looks like more states are considering legislation to keep sex offenders off social networking sites. I wrote about North Carolina’s law here, and you can read about some other states’ efforts here. There are serious First Amendment issues with these laws, and it will be interesting to see how the several states’ efforts are received by the courts. The laboratory of federalism at work!
Second, an Illinois sheriff is suing online classified ad service Cragislist, alleging that its “erotic services” section facilitates prostitution, and seeking reimbursement for costs incurred investigating that activity. Craigslist responds that it has taken a number of steps to address the issue, and that its responsibility for it’s users’ content is limited. Story here.
Third, continuing in the Craigslist vein, a Wisconsin woman has been charged with identity theft for posing as her ex-boyfriend and putting an ad on Craigslist asking other guys to call him at work and engage in sexual talk with him. That story’s here, and although some might view it as a relatively harmless prank, switch the sexes of the participants and it gets pretty scary.
Finally, a story that I plan to write about at greater length in a few days: as detailed here, a federal district court in Vermont has ruled that, at least under the circumstances involved in the case at hand, an individual can be compelled to provide access to a password-protected computer drive without violating the individual’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
All of these stories will continue to evolve, and to the extent that they develop in interesting ways, I’ll keep you posted.
Nearly 90% of American adults have cell phones. When one of those cell phone users is arrested, may police search their mobile phone incident to arrest? The Fourth Circuit recently answered that question in the affimative. See United States v. Murphy, __ F.3d __, 2009 WL 94268 (4th Cir. Jan. 15, 2009). The defendant in Murphy was a passenger in a car that was stopped for speeding. He gave a false name to the police, they figured it out, and he was arrested for obstruction of justice. Counterfeit currency and drug-related items were found in the car. The police searched Murphy’s cell phone incident to arrest, and obtained phone numbers they later used to develop additional evidence against Murphy. Murphy was charged with drug and currency offenses, and moved to suppress, arguing that the police should have obtained a warrant to search the phone. Neither the district court nor the court of appeals agreed.
The Fourth Circuit said that the “manifest” need to preserve evidence justified police in retrieving “text messages and other information from cell phones and pagers seized incident to an arrest.” There’s some logic here: over time, new messages and calls will “crowd out” earlier ones from the phone’s memory, effectively destroying potentially relevant evidence. Murphy agreed that when a phone has a small storage capacity, the need to preserve evidence justifies a warrantless inspection of a cell phone, but he contended that when a phone has a large storage capacity, the risk of losing critical evidence is reduced, and the privacy interest of the phone’s owner is increased, so a warrant should be required. The court rejected this argument as unworkable — what would count as a “small” or “large” capacity, and how would an officer know the capacity of a phone before searching it?
Appellate courts are struggling to apply Fourth Amendment rules to new technologies, and decisions like Murphy often raise as many questions as they provide answers. For example, could the police search the “address book” of Murhpy’s phone incident to arrest, even though it is not subject to crowding out? What if Murhphy had been carrying a Blackberry? A laptop? Could those be searched incident to arrest? What if the police can obtain all call information and text messages from the service provider, removing the crowding out/exigency justification? I’m keenly interested in this area of the law, and welcome feedback and comments about what officers are doing in the field and how courts are responding.