Warrantless surveillance of private property deemed lawful in the US
The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution defends “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”, adding that “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”. In defending the decision that this particular use of warrantless electronic surveillance did not constitute a breach, Judge Griesbach alluded primarily to the ‘open fields’ principle. This principle asserts that open fields are exempt from Fourth Amendment protection as they “do not provide the setting for those intimate activities that the Amendment is intended to shelter from government interference or surveillance”. As a result, open fields are not deemed to possess a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Lawyers for the two defendants in the case - Magana and Manuel Mendoza, who are both charged with running a large-scale marijuana farm - argued that the property in question constituted curtilage, the land immediately surrounding a dwelling, which does possess the expectation of privacy. The court rejected this argument, though their basis for doing so remains elusive, particularly in light of subsequent police conduct. While the initial installation of covert surveillance by police may have been justified by the assumption that they were operating on open fields, this does not appear to be the case given that four days later, a warrant was sought and granted. In this light, the scenario is indeed reminiscent of the kind of unreasonable searches (motivated by vague suspicions and unsupported by probable cause) that the Fourth Amendment is intended to protect US citizens against.
Read the full article at: privacyinternational.org