As we face an unparalleled time of technological advancement, we must ask if individuals will lose independence as technology keeps better tabs on us. In a victory for continued freedom from technology, the Supreme Court decided, in a case involving privacy and technology, that privacy won out. The court must continue this line of decisions in order to protect one of the most important rights Americans hold.
In 1992, federal agents used a heat-sensing device to detect large amounts of heat radiating from the home of an individual suspected of growing marijuana. Upon detecting heat, the agents obtained a search warrant and found more than 100 marijuana plants. The question raised before the court was whether the police needed a warrant to initially use the heat-sensing device and if the device was an invasion of privacy. Thankfully the courts realized it was indeed a violation of personal privacy.
Undoubtedly in the future, high-tech devices will allow for even more scrutiny of a person’s house than in this case. The court made the right decision to not allow law enforcement the right to secretly peer into a citizen’s home, especially without a warrant. If the court had granted law enforcement such rights, it could reawaken fears of a “big brother” watching over people, especially when there is not a legitimate reason to do so. Though a society does allow some latitude for law enforcement to override a few rights for the greater public good, there is a fine line the court is responsible for defining, a line that cannot be crossed.
Commenting on the decision, some law enforcement agencies have said the case only provides another hurdle for them to jump though and will not be a significant burden. This decision will now provide a good balance between allowing police and federal agents the right to use advanced technology, but by requiring a warrant, protections against “unreasonable search and seizure” still apply.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia restricted the decision to technologies that “are not in general public use.” This is a bit shortsighted. The court must have forgotten there was a time when computers were not in general public use. It is entirely conceivable that some day heat seeking devices will be as common as metal detectors people use to comb through beaches. Just because it is popular or common does not make it right. Any device, common or not, that allows others to see into a private home is wrong. Law enforcement can do their homework and find reasonable cause to obtain a search warrant. Then they may proceed with high-tech devices or a physical search, but not until there is enough evidence to warrant an invasion of privacy.