The Court Says the Federal Government Can Film Your Front Porch for 68 Days Without a Warrant

Law enforcement in Kansas continuously recorded the front of a man’s home for 68 consecutive days, 15 hours a day, and gathered evidence that resulted in his conviction on 16 charges. The officers conducted this surveillance without a search warrant, utilizing a camera mounted on a pole positioned across the street to monitor Bruce Hay’s residence. In a significant development for privacy law, a federal court recently upheld the legality of this surveillance.

The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals stated in their decision on U.S. vs Hay that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy for Mr. Hay regarding the view of the front of his house. They acknowledged that with the increasing presence of video cameras in society, the expectation of privacy from being filmed has unfortunately diminished.

Hay, an Army veteran, was convicted of falsely claiming disability status in order to receive benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). The aspect of this case that raises concerns is the manner in which VA officers obtained evidence against Hay. The veteran contested the case on the grounds that prolonged surveillance of his residence was an invasion of privacy. Nevertheless, the federal court ruled in favor of the legality of videotaping the exterior of one’s home, citing the prevalence of video cameras in today’s society.

According to the federal court’s ruling, the widespread use of video cameras has resulted in a decrease in our expectations of privacy. Nowadays, police officers use body cameras, cellphones come equipped with cameras, and even doorbells have the capability to record activity on your porch. It is undeniable that cameras have become a ubiquitous presence in our daily lives.

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Law enforcement has a history of blurring privacy boundaries through the use of modern recording technology. A recent report by Politico sheds light on how Ring, a popular smart doorbell company, handed over an entire day’s worth of camera footage without the consent of the individual involved. This footage was used as evidence to convict the person’s neighbor of a crime. Additionally, law enforcement agencies have been utilizing the vast network of Ring cameras to obtain footage of criminals without obtaining search warrants.

Law enforcement usually needs to obtain a search warrant for invasive searches of private property. However, in this particular case, VA officers recorded Hay’s house without a warrant based on a tip that he was not truly disabled. The court deemed this permissible since the camera’s view was similar to what anyone passing by Hay’s house could see.

Most people who pass by your house don’t stay there for two months straight. However, continuously recording the exterior of your home for an extended period can reveal personal details about your life. Hay emphasized that this gave law enforcement the ability to familiarize themselves with his routines, including his comings and goings, as well as who visited his residence.

In the U.S. vs Hay case, a significant precedent was set regarding the use of cameras by law enforcement. This case established clear guidelines for federal agents on what they are allowed to record and also established the concept of a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” It concluded that the front of one’s home is not considered private.

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