Use of Thermal Imaging Devices and 4th Amendment Rights

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Angela Kelley’s article “Excuse Me, But Your House is Leaking,” discusses the new technologies of Thermal Imaging Devices (TIDs) and how they are impacting our Fourth Amendment right that protects us against invasion of privacy. The use of TIDs improperly opens the door to unreasonable searches and seizures. Because of the nature of the intrusion, TIDs somehow fall outside the letter of the law. However, do they fall outside the spirit in which the laws were originally crafted? This paper will react to this point.

Essentially, technology has made it easier for the authorities to conduct covert surveillance. Private citizens can become the targets of police and law enforcement searches. Oftentimes, there might seem to be a reasonable cause. The question comes down to whether or not the state has the right to spy on its citizens disguised behind the veil of potential criminal activity. The concern for many Fourth Amendment advocates is the apparent ease with which technology, specifically with TIDs, can make the decision. At points, surveillance could be conducted without the knowledge of the person whose rights are potentially being trampled on.

Several cases have come before the High Courts in the United States including: Katz v. United States and United States v. Kyllo. In Kyllo, heat was escaping the home of a convicted grower and dealer of marijuana. Since there was no effort to conceal the heat, the courts upheld the conviction since the heat was freely being emitted. In Katz, there was a clearly a search using a TID, but without a warrant. The legality of this search was upheld. These troubling cases open the door to other technologies that could also be considered intrusive by others than the criminal justice system, yet fail to stand the test of whether or not the rights of the accused have been trampled on. Many parallels have been looked into in later cases. In one case, heat emissions were being viewed in the same way trash is...
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