Last week, EPIC joined an amicus brief written by the ACLU seeking to protect people’s right to be free from warrantless pole camera surveillance, a technique in which police set up cameras on utility poles to monitor a person’s homes for months. The case, United States v. Hay, is currently on appeal in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the case, federal agents installed a camera on a utility pole across the street from Mr. Hay’s home without first obtaining a search warrant. The camera operated continuously for months, recording everything that happened in Mr. Hay’s porch, front yard, driveway, and the front of his home. The agents could watch the feed live, go back through previous recordings, and remotely pan, tilt, and zoom close enough to capture intimate details such as license plate numbers or details about what people were carrying into and out of the house.
The amicus brief explained that this search violated the Fourth Amendment because it violated Mr. Hay’s reasonable expectation of privacy. People do not expect that the police can or would continuously monitor their homes for months. The camera could unveil extremely sensitive information: when someone left to pray, who was visiting them, what they bought, and what their daily patterns were. Pole cameras have new features that increase the police’s surveillance powers. Without forcing police to get a warrant, police could set up similar cameras in front of anybody or everybody’s home. All these concerns are especially salient for people who cannot afford to install high fences, hedges, or who rent.
The Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the ACLU of Kansas, and the ACLU of Colorado also joined the amicus brief. EPIC regularly files amicus briefs in cases urging courts to require search warrants when new technologies expand the government’s surveillance powers, especially in cases involving pole cameras.