Court to rule on constitutionality of video cameras trained on homes for months

By WND Staff

Anyone can see your home from the outside when they drive by. But does that give authorities permission to mount video cameras on nearby poles to monitor you for months on end?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups insist that’s illegal, and the group has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Commonwealth v. Mora in Massachusetts.

The fight is over the high-tech “pole cameras” fixed on the homes of Nelson Mora and Randy Suarez that allowed officers to monitor everyone going in and out of their homes in real time, “remotely control angle and zoom functions, and zoom in close enough to reach license plates.”

The arguments submitted to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court are based on Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless searches.

Police officers were able to review months of footage even though they had no warrants.

“Mora and Suarez moved to suppress the video surveillance, arguing the use of the cameras violated the Fourth Amendment and article 14 of Massachusetts’s Declaration of Rights, which prohibit unreasonable searches,” EFF reported.

The organization argued that “just as collecting cell phone location data over time reveals sensitive information about people, using stationary video surveillance to record all activity in front of a person’s home for months implicitly reveals so much more private, sensitive, and intimate information than the public sees merely walking by the house from time to time.”

Officers could, for example, “learn or infer private relationships, medical information, and political or religious beliefs. And, as with the collection of location data, technological advances make video surveillance cheap and easy for law enforcement to implement, removing the practical privacy protections that existed when the police had to rely on physical surveillance such as covertly positioning actual officers in front of a house (and paying those officers their full salaries).”

And, the organization notes, “secret video surveillance like this disproportionately impacts minority and poorer communities. The prosecutors in this case argued that Mora and Suarez did nothing to hide their homes from public view, so they couldn’t expect privacy from government surveillance that would in essence ‘see’ the same thing that a worker on the top of a utility pole could see.

“However, utility poles commonly rise 20-40 feet in the air. Only the very wealthy can live in communities where their properties are either set back so far from these poles as to be hidden from view or the utilities are buried underground. Without the financial resources to live in neighborhoods and homes like this, under the government’s arguments, those with less means would face forced diminishment of their privacy expectations and disproportionate surveillance in direct proportion to their income level.”

The timing of the decision is uncertain because court hearings have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

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