The website thinkprogress.com recently published an article on the warrantless video recording of a bald eagle feather and pelt seller, and his following conviction based on audio and video evidence. A federal appeals court ruled that the recording (taken by an undercover officer posing as a pelt buyer), did not break the individual’s fourth amendment rights, even though the recording was inside the suspect’s home.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued the statement:
“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.”
In this case, the video not only captured Wahchumwah’s bald eagle feathers, but also his books, his letters, his life and belongings that have no association with eagle poaching.
In addition, the video captured by a recording device is often much more detailed than an agent’s memory, and I believe much more invasive than just inviting someone into your home. Yes, when you invite someone into your home the expectation of complete privacy is no longer present, but there is still an expectation that your conversations and image and the images and items in your home are still private — and that they are not being recorded in high resolution.
Whether or not Wahchumwah is guilty of this misdemeanor crime is irrelevant. If police had sufficient reason to suspect Wahchumwah, they should have obtained a warrant.
None of this would be possible without the advances in audio and video surveillance technology. Discretely recording high definition video on a portable device has only become possible in the last twenty years, and our courts have yet to establish meaningful restrictions to these newly invasive capabilities.