Sunday, November 25, 2012

Police Install Camera Focused on Back Yard of Woman's Home

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Jay Stanley

Recently I wrote about an ACLU of Michigan report that highlighted the problem of police cameras being installed outside of people’s private homes. Last week I learned from my colleague Doug Bonney of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri about an even more egregious incident involving video surveillance of a private home in Missouri. Bonney described the situation to me:
We found out about it from our client Stephanie Santos who was subjected to the surveillance. It happened in Platte City, which is a small city north of Kansas City. The police department went in and installed a wildlife camera in a tree in a privately owned vacant lot right next to her property. And they focused the camera on her home—the back yard of her home, and specifically her bedroom window.

What prompted this apparently was that the city had had issues with our client’s father. The property is a duplex; he lives in one side of the duplex, our client and her family lives in the other side of the duplex. And the city had gone around with the father about feeding wild cats. That was the reason, apparently, they put the camera in the tree—really.

The camera was in the tree for three days in late October, and took pictures of her house from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. It took time-lapse pictures. Our client saw it and called the police about it. They sent out an officer who lied to her and said it was to watch people walking through the woods. The city now admits that was a total lie. But the next day, somebody from the city came and took the camera out.
So I wrote a letter because of the outrageous nature of a city posting a camera to surveil the back yard of somebody’s home. And the city didn’t reply initially to me at all. The city manager did call and apologize to our client. And various city employees came out and talked to our client and her father. They did an investigation. A reporter then sent me a memo the city had drafted, which basically admitted all the facts I alleged in my letter. The city, though, seemed to say the only problem was not having a policy before they installed the camera, and not sending their police officers and their police chief for privacy training. 
And that’s where it stood until Thursday night, when I was contacted by a lawyer who was representing the city. He said he had talked to the city, that they would not do this any more, that mayor was very upset, and that the mayor has written an official letter of apology to our client. They faxed that to me Friday—it’s a good letter. It expresses regret and acknowledges to our client that the incident was an “intrusion into the privacy of you and your family.” He wrote, “this action on our part leads to distrust of government at all levels and I am committed to taking steps to rebuild that trust with you and your family.” And the mayor said the city would investigate the mistakes the police department made and was looking at the possibility of disciplinary action against relevant city staff. 
It’s hard to conceive of many people who would say “this is something the government should be doing—setting up spy cameras to spy on us in our back yards.” This letter tells me that the city gets that. 
Perhaps most important for our purposes is that I told the city’s lawyer that “the city doesn’t really need a policy governing this kind of camera deployment, because the Constitution provides a policy. It’s the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.” And he agreed with that.
Bonney adds, “I’m glad we got a good resolution, but this issue is one that is going to keep popping up.”

Fourth Amendment law is in crisis right now as its application to vast areas of American life has been challenged by government agencies taking advantage of evolving technology. But the privacy of the home remains sacrosanct and in many ways is the clearest, easiest case for constitutional privacy protection, so even given the relative novelty of cheap video surveillance in our society, it’s somewhat surprising that such cases are coming up.


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Paul Panza said...

All politicians and police should be wired 24/7 as an act of public responsibility and safety. This could be one way of having the proof that the citizens are getting the honesty that they are paying for from their public servants while on duty.

Anonymous said...

there was a big upset in syracuse ny 2 years ago about cameras being installed in low income/ high crime areas, also invading people's privacy. they were supposed to "prevent" crime, yet it was later acknowledged that they were being used to share info with ICE, and not a whole lot else... crime rates have not decreased since they were installed at tax payers expense. if anything it gives police excuse to be lazy and NOT fight crime in an area where police brutality is rampant, and community (gang) policing is commonplace. but bc it is a low income minority area, the pleas against such invasion of privacy was all but ignored, and they still stand there with the justification of "if you're not committing any crimes, you've got nothing to hide" BS since the cops in that neighborhood commit more crimes than any other part of the city, i.e breaking and entering, unlawful arrests w/o warrent, assault, murder, even using u.n. banned cs gas on a vet's home (wrong address, sorry) rendering it uninhabitable, with no retribution for his family to buy a new home or replace items destroyed; and now unlawful spying for federal immigration agency with state and city police funding- i.e. your tax $.

Incriminally Sane said...

Divide and conquer! lets take millions of baby steps towards total control over a population using cameras, illegal laws and corrupt cops so the bankers can control the entire society. None of this is legal according to the US Constitution and until WE THE PEOPLE force them to stop, IT WILL CONTINUE. Put the bankers, Politicians and corrupt cops in prison and we will regain our peaceful society.

Anonymous said...

Uh uh - They would rather place it on every corner of the street, very back yard, possibly even every house bed rooms. That way the sell more camera for our safety. Not to mention that when there are cops around they can just simply turn them off if they want to.

Did you know that you can no longer record police crime against public? Did you know that they can turn off your cell phone camera on Iphone 5 if your close by the vicinity of cops and their vehicles?

Anonymous said...

Official admit stupid mistake were made. And they made an official apologies. They are fixing the problems.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Baby steps is a chillingly accurate description of this creeping steady loss of rights/freedom.

Anonymous said...


just about every state has peeping tom laws which I am sure can be applied in this case. Of course given that outrageous behavior of the police department I would suggest putting up video cameras cover the front and back yards of the say the chief of police and the major. After all if it is legal for them to point cameras in most certainly is legal for every else..........

Anonymous said...

I was looking for how many people would write this is excusable in any way even if it was a mistake. The officer who gave the lady a $2,500 ticket for her 3 year old urinating in her front yard was fired so...why not this here

Anonymous said...

Cameras are put up to capture and record photons. Given them what they want. Photons! Lots of photons: point a laser or solar focusing mechanism at said cameras! Always practice good fire safety, and never breath the fumes.

Anonymous said...

I would walk around naked and scare the bejeebies out of them and they would never be back.

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