Shhh… US Federal Court: Warrantless Surveillance Footage in Public Areas is an Invasion of Privacy

Shhh… US Federal Court: Warrantless Surveillance Footage in Public Areas is an Invasion of Privacy

Guess one would easily assume privacy does not apply in public areas – just look at the proliferation of CCTV cameras in the streets.

Well, that’s probably not necessarily the case judging by one recent court ruling in Washington. It may be good news for the general public and bad news for law enforcement.

Now first, many would probably associate the following 2 photos with typical covert surveillance operations, whereby operatives waited patiently to snap photos (and video) evidence of their subjects.

Surveillance-Detectives

Surveillance-Detectives2

But in this case involving the Washington police and Leonel Vargas (an “undocumented” immigrant suspected of drug trafficking), the authorities had a better idea.

The police planted a video camera, without a warrant, on a nearby utility pole 100 yards from Vargas’ rural Washington state house and shot 6 weeks worth of footage of his front yard whereby they eventually captured convincing evidence.

Vargas challenged the case on the grounds of violation of his privacy, which the government argued was not valid as his front yard is a public space and thus privacy does not apply.

The evidence put forward by the authorities was subsequently thrown out of the court by US District Judge Edward Shea, whose ruling is well summed up as such:

Law enforcement’s warrantless and constant covert video surveillance of Defendant’s rural front yard is contrary to the public’s reasonable expectation of privacy and violates Defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search. The video evidence and fruit of the video evidence are suppressed.

Find out more about this case from here and there.