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  (Source: AP)
Federal court ruling opens the door to increased monitoring, abuse

The Fourth Amendment seems relatively explicit in its perspective on warrantless searches, surveillance, and seizures of Americans in their homes -- they're illegal. 

I. It's Okay For Agents to Invade Private Property (Sometimes)

The amendment to what is supposedly the most important document to the American government states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

But federal courts and politicians have increasingly argued that the Fourth Amendment is an archaic and obstructive instrument.  To that end, they've sought to stretch the bounds of "reasonable" searches/seizures to cover virtually any case, in effect repealing the protections of the Fourth Amendment, without a vote by the public.

The latest step down that path comes courtesy of U.S. District Judge William Griesbach, who has served on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin ever since his 2002 nomination by President George W. Bush.
 

U.S. police trooper
A federal judge has approved planting cameras on citizens private property without warrant. [Image Source: Reuters]

In a closely watched case, the federal judge ruled that the Constitutional rights of two defendants -- Manuel Mendoza and Marco Magana of Green Bay, WI -- were not violated when federal agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) invaded their private property without warrant to plant wireless surveillance cameras.  The judge also ruled that the collected evidence could be used against the defendants.

The judge argued that the 22-acre property's numerous "no trespassing" signs did not apply to federal agents -- with or without warrant.

II. Defendants Face Life-in-Prison for Growing Cannabis

The DEA reportedly found 1,000 marijuana plants growing on the property.

While medical studies have shown that marijuana has no more personal or public adverse health effects than America's "legal" drugs -- alcohol, tobacco, and prescription methamphetamines -- it has been illegal in the U.S. since 1970.  The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 called on the federal government's official drug cartel agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to classify the plant as a Schedule I drug with "no medical use".  That makes it more restricted than even cocaine, which while also a Schedule I drug, can be used in a clinical setting to treat severe nosebleeds.

Due to the classification, the two defendants face the possibility of a life sentence and $10M USD in fines.  A jury trial is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2013.

Justice Department prosecutors James Santelle and William Lipscomb argued in briefs, "Placing a video camera in a location that allows law enforcement to record activities outside of a home and beyond protected curtilage does not violate the Fourth Amendment."

The prosecutors are referring to an interesting dichotomy in past rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), the highest court in the land.  In the 1984 Oliver v. United States decision, the SCOTUS ruled that private property that fell under the category of so-called "open fields" could be invaded by federal agents without warrant.  The case has been challenged, as it essentially says that if you can afford a fence you can get better legal protections and if you can't you're out of luck.  But the case has not been overturned.

Prison
The defendants face life in prison.  The U.S. imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world.  [Image Source: Banmiller on Business]

"Curtilage" is the land surrounding a residence, which appears to be still protected under the Fourth Amendment, based on the SCOTUS's past rulings.

But Judge Griesbach could have compelling cause to go in the other direction.  While the SCOTUS has refused to hear cases on warrantless wiretapping, phone tracking, or warrantless use of surveillance cameras; in recent months it has struck down other forms of warrantless surveillance.

In Jan. 2012, the SCOTUS unanimously (9-0) ruled that wireless GPS tracking without warrant was illegal.  Likewise, in Kyllo v. United States, the SCOTUS narrowly (5-4) ruled that warrantless thermal imaging (in a similar marijuana growing case) was illegal.

In choosing to overlook those decision and base the ruling solely on Oliver, the federal judge in the recent cases was acting in an activist manner to effectively repeal Constitutional protections, the defendants' lawyers argue.

Brett Reetz, Magana's attorney, comments, "That one's actions could be recorded on their own property, even if the property is not within the curtilage, is contrary to society's concept of privacy.  The owner and his guest... had reason to believe that their activities on the property were not subject to video surveillance as it would constitute a violation of privacy."

III. Criticism Over U.S. Warrantless Policing Abounds

Drug enforcement is the subject of much controversy in the U.S.

America incarcerates more of its population than any other nation in the world -- nearly 1 percent (~2 million) of the population -- at a projected cost of $80B USD or more [source] in 2010.  Of those incarcerated, 70 percent were imprisoned [source] for non-violent crimes, with nearly half of those serving prison time having lost their liberty due to non-violent drug offenses [source].  One in eight (roughly 1 out of every 800 Americans) are imprisoned for marijuana offenses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

Experts estimate that the U.S. loses almost $50B USD [source] in potential tax revenue by outlawing marijuana -- roughly $2T USD over the forty years of the war on drugs.  Combined with the net cost, that works out to roughly $3T USD -- enough to pay off a third of the U.S. national debt [source].

The prohibition on domestic growth has also led to a steady stream of illicit harvests flowing across America's southern border and fueling a murderous drug war in Mexico that has claimed thousands of lives.

Ron Paul
Ron Paul argues that the country is going down a dark path. [Image Source: NBC]

Some like Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R), who have a front row view of the immigration debate and "War on Drugs" have advocated decriminalizing marijuana.  Rep. Paul is quoted as saying, "And marijuana - I think it's tragic what's happening today in the drug war. Since the early '70s we've spent maybe $200 to $300 billion on the drug war. That's not been any good. This whole effort on the drug war doesn't make any sense at all to me."

Likewise, warrantless monitoring is the subject to much debate.

Civil liberties advocacies like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and a handful of politicians like Rep. Paul argue that warrantless surveillance is inherently unconstitutional.  Rep. Paul argues that the American political system has been hijacked by zealots, commenting, "The PATRIOT Act was written many, many years before 9/11, [the attacks simply provided] an opportunity for some people to do what they wanted to do..."

"Democracy isn't all that healthy in this country because if you're in a third party... you don't get in the debates... And if you ever come to the conclusion -- heaven forbid -- that the two parties aren't all that different, then what is left really?"

IV.  Heads of the Nation's Ruling Parties Support Warrantless Policing

But there are powerful interesting opposing such lines of thinking.  Both Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney support throwing out due process (warrants) in cases where national security is viewed to be at risk -- a policy first put in place by Republican President George W. Bush (with bipartisan support from America's two ruling parties) in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  

Both candidates also support outlawing and imprisoning folks for smoking or growing marijuana, despite Barack Obama admitting to having smoked the substance in his younger years for "stress relief".


Bush and Obama
President Obama and his predecessor President Bush agree on many things, including that the federal government should be granted unregulated spying on its citizens.
[Image Source: WhiteHouse.gov]

Mr. Romney expressed a viewpoint narrowly in line with President Obama's plugging warrantless wiretaps in a recent interview (see below), stating, "If it means we have to go into a mosque to wiretap or a church, then that's exactly where we are gonna go, because we are going to do whatever it takes to protect the American people. And I hear from time to time people say, 'Hey, wait a sec, we have civil liberties to worry about', but don't forget... the most important civil liberty I expect from my government is my right to be kept alive."


In a statement on the SCOTUS ruling, President Obama marched in lock-step with his political rival, with his press office writing [PDF]:

Electronic surveillance for law enforcement and intelligence purposes depends in great part on the cooperation of the private companies that operate the nation's telecommunication system.

If litigation were allowed to proceed against those who allegedly assisted in such activities, the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful government requests in the future, and the possible reduction in intelligence that might result is simply unacceptable for the safety of our nation.

Now those advocates of warrantless surveillance have another victory in hand, while the critics are left searching for answers and fresh hope.

Source: CNET



Comments     Threshold


This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Vote different!
By arazok on 11/2/2012 3:44:48 PM , Rating: 5
I don’t know if most American’s realize this, but the whole world basically mimics the US government when it comes to policy. That’s just how it is.

As a Canadian, I am begging you all, please STOP voting democratic OR republican. Apart from a few like Ron Paul, these parties are both leading you down the path of corruption and oppression. Just find some little nothing party that’s obsessed about the constitution and free speech, and vote for them. PLEASE! I don’t want to see any more kids in MY country going to jail because your government can’t admit the war on drugs is a total waste of time.




RE: Vote different!
By StevoLincolnite on 11/2/2012 3:53:37 PM , Rating: 5
Nothing will change, the press in America seems to back certain candidates and give them more air time to farther their own agenda's.
The end result is that candidates which actually do make sense get pushed to the side, the average joe will just pick the "cool" guy on TV in the end.

Essentially though, American "Freedoms" are slowly being eroded away and the country is starting to look like a police state from the outside.

Thankfully, I'm half a planet away and American politics has no real reach here and hence I enjoy far more freedoms and fairness than what I would receive in the US.


RE: Vote different!
By StevoLincolnite on 11/2/2012 3:54:22 PM , Rating: 4
Also, do yourselves a favor and vote Ron Paul next time around. :)

Or, send him over here if you don't want him!


RE: Vote different!
By ClownPuncher on 11/2/2012 4:26:32 PM , Rating: 4
Not to worry. There are some of us who vote for him, even if we are labeled nutters. Will he ever be President? Highly unlikely. I'd just rather not waste my vote on fools like Obama and Romney. Standards and all that...


RE: Vote different!
By Adonlude on 11/3/2012 3:06:46 PM , Rating: 3
It's really sad. I wish I lived in a country where Ron Paul could be president but that is just never going to happen. I'm just going to buy more guns.


RE: Vote different!
By Reclaimer77 on 11/3/12, Rating: 0
RE: Vote different!
By mcnabney on 11/5/2012 9:22:14 AM , Rating: 2
I'm pretty sure that these are conservative judges chipping away at our freedoms. You should probably stop voting for the GOP since they are the cause of this. Or maybe you just love the feeling of cognitive dissonance.


RE: Vote different!
By twhittet on 11/5/2012 12:40:31 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't matter - Obama is all about warrantless spying on American soil just as much as the GOP. That's one of the biggest reasons I'm disappointed in him. A real "conservative" judge would not go for rights being stripped away - but there are few of those apparently.


RE: Vote different!
By ClownPuncher on 11/5/2012 3:22:17 PM , Rating: 2
Congress would never let him do all of that.


RE: Vote different!
By abhaxus on 11/4/2012 1:02:36 AM , Rating: 2
Not so closeted racists who support the restriction of rights for homosexuals and women are clearly the best candidates to vote for.


RE: Vote different!
By BZDTemp on 11/2/2012 5:49:34 PM , Rating: 3
I'm sorry to burst your bubble but Canada does not equal "the whole world" :-)

Look for instance at the EU and you'll find that mimicking the US is not happening and that is even in the situations where the US is trying to influence the decisions. Now this does not mean that some laws in this part of the world are not similar to the ones in North America, but with many shared cultural and political similarities that is hardly surprising. However especially when looking civil rights we are much better protected here in the EU and that is both with the smaller things and big issues like the use of the Death penalty.


RE: Vote different!
By inperfectdarkness on 11/3/2012 4:59:38 AM , Rating: 2
The problem is, 3rd parties cannot get coverage. The media controls the exposure, and none of our "big 3" tv outlets has any intention of covering anything but those 2 parties. The legislators from those two parties even work IN TANDEM to keep the third parties at bay by never allowing any legislation which would give those parties a leg-up....to see the light of day.

I would happily vote libertarian, but who is running? What is their platform? Why were those candidates not included in the presidential debates? The media has done a fantastic job of supporting and maintaining this duo-cracy.

The bottom line is, the change that MUST happen and NEEDS to happen simply CANNOT happen because it would require those 2 hegemonic powers to act contrary to their own self-perpetuating interests.

Now I'll probably get down-rated for saying it, but this last part is precisely the reason I don't vote. Because the change that must happen (if the system is to survive and improve) simply can't transpire. There is simply too much momentum against fair opportunities for 3rd parties for any significant outside influence to effectively redirect the path that our government is headed in.

The election process has always been about trying to pick a candidate whose platform requires the fewest personal compromises on morals and ideals. I feel that the individual SHOULDN'T have to make any compromises--that there should be enough candidates to match virtually any perspective; regardless of who wins. I wouldn't think this would be hard to do, but apparently it is. For example, this is what I'd be looking for in a candidate (no particular order):

-Pro-Choice
-Pro-Death-Penalty
-Anti-Gun-Control (upholds 2nd amendment)
-Upholds the 4th amendment
-Upholds the 1st amendment (seeing a trend here?)
-Anti Welfare / Pro-Social-Darwinism
-Prefers CEO Salary % regulations, rather than a flat minimum wage
-favors incentive-based pay for legislators (over-budget = under paid)
-favors term limits & eliminating lifetime benefits for legislators
-believes that the military is the prime reason for the existence of a federal government, and that virtually all other programs should be handled on a state-level
-favors legalizing all illicit drugs; eliminating the DEA; and expanding the ATF to include their regulation.

My list goes on for quite some time, but just from this brief snapshot, you can see why the 2-party system simply cannot keep up. Even the "Beloved Ron Paul" simply doesn't see eye-to-eye with me on many of these issues (i.e. he doesn't believe in ANY overseas basing). And paul has more of a chance of getting elected than any other 3rd party candidate--and he's still got almost no chance at all.


RE: Vote different!
By JediJeb on 11/3/2012 12:52:53 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
-favors incentive-based pay for legislators (over-budget = under paid)


I like this one and would expand it to be that if the budget is not balanced, the first thing to go is government salaries starting with the President and Congress. If you are one dollar past budget then that dollar gets deducted evenly across the President and Congress, since we are looking at a present proposed budget with a $1+ Trillion shortfall maybe we should dock 100% of the President's and Congress's salary and ask them to pony up the difference out of their pockets, and if they don't wish to do that then they need to make sure the budget does not spend more than we take in. The people in charge of spending the money should be more responsible for balancing the budget than any taxpayer should by paying more taxes.


RE: Vote different!
By Reclaimer77 on 11/3/2012 5:51:26 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
I would happily vote libertarian, but who is running? What is their platform? Why were those candidates not included in the presidential debates? The media has done a fantastic job of supporting and maintaining this duo-cracy.


We're in the age of the "new media", so this seems like a poor excuse. If you wanted to know the answers to these questions, they are readily available. You don't need "the news" to answer them for you.

quote:
Now I'll probably get down-rated for saying it, but this last part is precisely the reason I don't vote.


There's no logic in your position. You want change, but you refuse to vote until that change happens. Until others fix the problems for you. Maybe the change isn't happening because too many people with your attitude are out there?


RE: Vote different!
By inperfectdarkness on 11/4/2012 3:52:35 AM , Rating: 2
Your logic = fail.

The voting masses aren't going to scour the internet trying to find the fringe-party candidate who best represents them. They're going to turn on CNN/FOX and glean all their information from those sources. And because those "sources" only tell a fraction of the story, the public remains uninformed. The small contingent of people intelligent and motivated enough to pursue "outside" options simply cannot wield enough voting clout to radically alter the outcome of the presidential election--let alone any other federal election.

There is plenty of logic within my position. The deck is inpenetrably stacked against 3rd parties. As such, there is no way to get said individual in power--en masse--which would facilitate the requisite change.

There ARE a lot of people out there with my attitude. The problem is, they are still a minority--even collectively. A minority that even when massed fully couldn't get Perot more than a smidgen of the vote (let alone Thompson, Nader, Paul, etc). You mistakenly assume that there are enough frustrated individuals out there to overrule the dogmatic party-line voters that rule the country's voting. Yet even if numerical advantage was in their favor, you'd have to effectively unite them unilaterally under one banner for that massing to oust the duocracy in power. That's a far-feteched proposition due to how many differing ideals there are. Worse, with the media effectively in the pockets of those two parties, there is no way to effectively spread and unite the public--even online--because TV is the king of media outlets. What drives up a website's hits more than anything? Plugging it on TV.

I am sick and tired of being labeled as the one "to blame" for my disillusionment with the government and the direction of the US in general. "Waiting on the world to change" is precisely what we may have to do. Hell, look at how easily progressive movements are crushed by China. And over there, you have a distinct tangible enemy you face. Over here, the enemy is not nearly as easily defined and is much more resillient. We simply haven't got a prayer.

Take your "it's your fault for not voting" argument and shove it straight up your ballot-box.


RE: Vote different!
By Tiborticus on 11/5/2012 6:31:14 AM , Rating: 2
And what percentage of the public is that much different from you? 75%? 50? 25? And what makes you think R. Paul would radically change things to the way YOU want them? The fact of the matter is that change is NOT brought from the heavens or some politician. Change happens when people stop complaining and get up off their butts and start working - hard - for change. Pressing a button to elect someone does not equal change - never has, never will.


RE: Vote different!
By Dr of crap on 11/5/2012 8:51:00 AM , Rating: 2
I couldn't agree more.
You know there are 4 candidates for president on the ballot.
I WON'T vote Rep or Dem, and The Green party is out as well.
So MY "wasted vote" is for the libertarian party.

I care not who the candidate is.
I care ONLY to NOT vote Rep or Dem. And when I get pollsters calling about who I might vote for, they are speechless when I say none of the two "front runners".

The fact that I won't declare myself into a political party and pledge my allegence to a party is just not registering with anyone!

So I hope a lot more will NOT VOTE the norm, and either pick the Green Party or the Libertain party, just to NOT vote the "norm".

Our political system is SOOOOO messsed up I can't even stomach it any longer. OH and don't forget our GREAT judisical system has given it's OK to allow companies to give money to political parties now!!
Isn't that just great!


RE: Vote different!
By RufusM on 11/6/2012 12:34:19 PM , Rating: 2
The very fact that people use the words "wasted vote" just goes to show you how indoctrinated most people are by the two party system in the US. Just like Dr. Crap said, people need to vote for the person not for the party. We're at a point where the party directs the candidate, controls the funding and has way too much power.

Anyone that pays attention and votes their true conscience NEVER wastes their vote.


RE: Vote different!
By Boingo Twang on 11/5/2012 3:36:41 PM , Rating: 2
The Drug War is non-partisan except for the fact that a Republican, Richard Nixon, started it in its humongous present form. Even if the saintly Ron Paul were in office I would not hold my breath for anything to change in that regard. The money is flowing too hard, the interests of the prison-industrial complex are far too powerful and entrenched. Grin and bear it folks, we have exactly the government we deserve.


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