Technology vs. Privacy 

Technology vs. Privacy 
Posted by FoM on March 07, 2001 at 06:31:25 PT
By Adrienne Drell, Legal Affairs Reporter
Source: Chicago Sun-Times 
In the recent movie comedy "Saving Grace," a new widow trades a prize-winning orchid growing business for raising marijuana, only to be uncovered by the night sky reflection from the grow lights in her greenhouse.Now, Hollywood turns real as civil libertarians voice concerns over a sophisticated thermal-imaging device that can detect the heat patterns caused by the high-intensity lights often used to cultivate marijuana.
The Supreme Court has taken up the question of whether use of the imager is an unconstitutional intrusion into an individual's privacy.Assistant Deputy Solicitor General Michael R. Dreeben contended in arguments before the court on Feb. 21 that the imager cannot reveal activities inside the home and that no one has an expectation of privacy "in the heat that's on the exterior surface of their walls."But attorneys for an Oregon man arrested for growing the illicit weed said allowing police to monitor thermal radiation from a home robs individuals of personal privacy rights.The case illustrates how technological wizardry--often used to fight illegal activities--can violate precious privacy rights. Other potentially invasive high-tech crime busters available to government agencies include:* Scopes that use neutron radiation, vapor and heat to ferret out concealed drugs in boats, planes, cars and cargo.* Hand-held thermal viewers that measure differences in temperatures of various materials and can help detect contraband or even human beings hidden in the bushes.* A computerized "skeleton key" that permits eavesdropping on private individuals' e-mail.* Global positioning satellites that federal agents can use to track criminal suspects or stolen vehicles anywhere in the world.* Minute concealed microphones in prison visitors' badges.* A "buster," a small device that inspectors can hold against a tire wall to see if it is filled with drugs rather than air.At O'Hare Airport, U.S. Customs inspectors use a low-power X-ray machine called BodySearch that can see through clothing a few millimeters beneath the skin to detect drugs and other illegal items on anyone entering the country.The X-ray images are so detailed, a person's private body parts are visible. Thus officials use same sex operators on the machine, which they say avoids the need for strip or pat-down searches of suspicious people. Before being scanned, individuals must sign a release."We realize it is human nature that people do not like to be touched by strangers. This new technology allows us to perform a necessary duty while at the same time providing the traveler another option to a physical pat down," said U.S. Customs spokesman Barry Morrissey.American Science and Engineering, the Massachusetts-based company that developed the device, makes other products that scan handbags, luggage, mail and vehicles. The technology can determine if visitors to a diamond factory are walking out with gems or those to a Navy base are arriving with explosives."All of these items are not invasive but strictly external ways to detect variations," insisted Robert Peters, vice president for American Science.But civil rights advocates say such products can be problematic."Law enforcement should have some reasonable suspicions before they turn this invasive technology loose on individuals," said Ed Yahnke, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union in Chicago.It is far too easy to use high technology without controls. Yahnke cited the controversial digital surveillance that compiled a photo data file on the crowd at the Super Bowl as a security measure. Only seven people were revealed to have criminal records."So there was no real threat to security," said Yahnke, who is also troubled by the FBI's so-called Carnivore system. Carnivore can scan e-mail or monitor cell phone conversations."What if a person says jokingly, `I sure bombed in that speech last night.' Something as innocent as that could be suspicious. There ought to be strict guidelines," said Yahnke.DePaul University College of Law Professor John Decker said such devices could be intrusive because they are, in effect, illegal warrantless searches."Under the Public Exposure doctrine, if you expose your illegal conduct or contraband by opening the door of your home or business even a crack, then you assume the risk that someone can monitor your activities," said Decker. "But these sophisticated sense enhancing devices gather information about the interior. It's gaining entry into the premises, and I call that intrusive."In a recent criminal procedures class, Decker's students discussed whether the devices venture into the zone of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.They were particularly troubled by the same questions the Supreme Court is wrestling with in the thermal-imaging case. Did the use of the machine from outside the home to detect patterns of heat generated inside by high-intensity grow lights violate the 4th Amendment ban? Did police use the information improperly to obtain a warrant to search the house where they found 100 marijuana plants?Some students agreed with the government that the device merely enhances human senses, is akin to other aids such as drug-sniffing dogs and binoculars and does not penetrate the walls of a house. But others felt technology could infringe on a person's reasonable expectation to enjoy privacy at home."I could probably buy one and use it against my neighbor. The safeguards we have now may not apply to some of this new technology," said second-year DePaul student Dino Katris.Law student Richard Velasquez is also a Cook County juvenile probation officer responsible for electronic monitoring of minors awaiting trial on criminal charges."Some of these high-tech things like thermal-imaging devices have a lot of room for error," said Velasquez. "You never know whether an attic full of body builders or a faulty furnace is raising the heat in a house--not grow lights."No matter how the Supreme Court rules in the thermal-imaging case, it probably won't end the discussion on whether modern crime-fighting techniques violate individual rights."These new devices should improve technology, not allow more peeping into people's lives," said Northwestern University Law Professor Robert Bennett.Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)Author: Adrienne Drell, Legal Affairs ReporterPublished: March 7, 2001Copyright: 2001 The Sun-Times Co.Address: 401 N. Wabash, Chicago IL 60611Contact: letters suntimes.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Saving Grace Imagers are Hot-Button Issue Grace Delivers Delightful Comic High
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