Judge allows video surveillance system to be placed by law enforcement to monitor private property

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Manuel Mendoza and Marco Magana have been arrested and charged with federal drug crimes for growing over 1,000 marijuana plants on their 22-acre property in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

CNET reported on October 30th: “U.S. District Judge William Griesbach ruled that it was reasonable for Drug Enforcement Administration agents to enter rural property without permission — and without a warrant — to install multiple ‘covert digital video surveillance cameras’ in hopes of uncovering evidence that 30 to 40 marijuana plants were being grown.”

This is another example of the head on collision between an individual’s fourth amendment privacy rights, and improving audio and video surveillance technology. In this case, it was ruled that DEA agents placed the covert video cameras in areas of the property where one could not reasonably expect privacy (despite the no trespassing signs surrounding the land).

So the court ruled that even though this was private property, the individuals should expect that others can see their actions.

While one could argue with Griesbach’s decision in this case, it is difficult to question the immediate effectiveness of the operation. Security surveillance video and audio technology is improving at an exponential rate – becoming less expensive and with better low-light quality and higher resolution. I read about new video security camera models coming out every day. Surveillance systems are an extremely effective deterrent to stop crime, and a great tool for solving crimes after the fact. However, is this how we want our country’s law enforcement to behave? Is this video surveillance and private property what we will allow them to do?

These situations force us to re-visit an issue that is increasingly relevant and debated: are we willing to let our police, FBI, and homeland security use invasive video and audio recording systems that sacrifice our privacy in order to capture criminals? And if we disagree, saying that this video surveillance has gone over the line, then how do we stop it from being used?

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