Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court provided some comfort to those fearing the seemingly limitless potential of new technologies to enable government privacy invasion. In holding that police could not attach a GPS device to a car and track it for 30 days without a warrant, the court said, “At bottom, we must ‘assur[e] preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.’”
But don’t get too comfortable. A federal appeals court ruled last week that police can secretly videotape a suspect’s home without a warrant. In a case about the suspected sale of bald eagle feathers and pelts – a misdemeanor crime — the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that undercover police admitted into the suspect’s home as interested buyers of pelts did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they secretly videotaped the suspect’s home:
We are persuaded that it is not “constitutionally relevant” whether an informant utilizes an audio-video device, rather than merely an audio recording device, to record activities occurring inside a home, into which the informer has been invited. When Wahchumwah invited Agent Romero into his home, he forfeited his expectation of privacy as to those areas that were “knowingly expose[d] to” Agent Romero. Wahchumwah cannot reasonably argue that the recording violates his legitimate privacy interests when it reveals no more than what was already visible to the agent.
The decision doesn’t entirely break new ground. At least one other federal appeals court has upheld the use of video recordings inside the home, and just last month, a lower federal court reached a similar conclusion.