Privacy SOS

Judge: Cops must get a warrant to install surveillance camera across the street from your house

A federal judge in Washington state has ruled that law enforcement cannot install a webcam across the street from someone's house to monitor their comings and goings unless they first obtain a warrant. The ruling in US v. Vargas arrives at a different conclusion from a 2012 decision by a federal judge, who concluded that the DEA was acting within the law when it warrantlessly installed a surveillance camera on someone's private property.

The judge in the Vargas case thought differently:

After reviewing relevant Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and applying such to the facts here, the Court rules that the Constitution permits law enforcement officers to remotely and continuously view and record an individual’s front yard (and the activities and people thereon) through the use of a hidden video camera concealed off of the individual’s property but only upon obtaining a search warrant from a judge based on a showing of probable cause to believe criminal activity was occurring. The American people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the activities occurring in and around the front yard of their homes particularly where the home is located in a very rural, isolated setting. This reasonable expectation of privacy prohibits the warrantless, continuous, and covert recording of Mr. Vargas’ front yard for six weeks. Mr. Vargas’ motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the video feed is granted.

Score one for privacy, and note the judge's use of the words "warrantless" and "continuous." There's a whole lot of warrantless, continuous surveillance happening in the United States today.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.