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Does Cheap Tech Undermine Legal Privacy Protections? 282

bfwebster writes "Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor who focuses on legal issues regarding information technology (I own a copy of his book Computer Crime Law) raises an interesting issue about a 2001 Supreme Court decision (Kyllo v. United States) that prohibited police from using a thermal imaging device on a private home without a warrant. (The police were trying to detect excess heat coming from the roof of a garage, as an indication of lamps being used to grow marijuana inside.) The Court made its decision back in 2001 because thermal imaging devices were 'not in general use' and therefore represented a technology that required a warrant. However, Kerr points out that anyone can now buy such thermal imaging devices for $50 to $150 from Amazon, and that they're advertised as a means of detecting thermal leakage from your home. In light of that, Kerr asks, is the Supreme Court's ruling still sound?"
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Does Cheap Tech Undermine Legal Privacy Protections?

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  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @01:50PM (#30657660)

    The linked item is not an imager, it's a glorified thermometer. I wish you could get a thermal imager for cheap -- last I checked, they still started in the $3-4K range.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by aclarke ( 307017 )
      Back in university (Civil Engineering) in the early '90s, I got to use one on one of my work terms. It was used to check federal buildings for thermal leaks, and it cost around $70k. It was so accurate you could tell the difference in temperature between a person's eyeball and their face from probably 50 metres away.

      I remember demoing at a trade show, and telling a girl there she was really hot. Literally. Unfortunately she wasn't particularly "hot" in the other sense, so I didn't ask for her number.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by HeckRuler ( 1369601 )
      This kind of raises the question of why the cops needed a $3K device when they really just wanted to know when a roof was >120F. Sure, the thermal imager is more fun to play with, but a $30 kitchen tool, you know the kind with the targeting laser, would work just about as well for a hundredth of the cost. I think our generals use the same logic as these guys.
    • I was anxious when I saw this story come up. Ooohh, thermal imaging for $100!

      Ya, the linked device is just a thermometer. They've had these for a while. Sears has been selling these for a while, marketed towards automotive and industrial uses. There are several options on the market, like the FLIR PathFindIR ($2,500), Fluke 5YE66 ($2,500) and Fluke Ti10 ($5,000). My dad did work with this in the 60's and 70's, and his equipment was outrageously expensive, and only availabl

      • The cost of the thermal imager isn't so bad compared to the cost of the steady supply of liquid helium that you have to feed the thing
        •     The new "cheap" ones I mentioned don't require that kind of cooling. Some of the larger industrial ones do. Now I find it a little strange that we had liquid nitrogen and dry ice at the house when I was a little kid. My dad would toss the left over dry ice in a tub of water to let us watch it sublimate.

        • Definitely a problem 10 years ago maybe, but modern thermal images, while expensive, can easily get a usable image w/o cooling.

          Cooling is to reduce the thermal noise in the electronics. Better detectors and modern electronics reduce the need for this.

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      The linked item is not an imager, it's a glorified thermometer. I wish you could get a thermal imager for cheap -- last I checked, they still started in the $3-4K range.

      Maybe, after ten layers of journalists and editors, he really said they cost about $50-$100 per day. Because they do. Or at least that's the going rate at (no kidding).

      One of my many long term plans has been to rent one locally, and scientifically evaluate which of the ancient walls and windows of my house are REALLY the most in need of insulation. Every other method is either vaguely guessing or relies on the honesty of a salesman (and I'm not that stupid).

      $100 to just goof around with a weird

    • Try $14,000 (Score:4, Informative)

      by JoshDD ( 1713044 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @02:42PM (#30658472)
      we have this fancy thermal imager that can see through walls like they arn't there. It detects such subtle changes in temperature you can see the entire inside of the house with excellent clarity from a few hundred feet away. Mind you owning this device is illegal because of the potential for abuse we have exception because it is used for fire dept / search & rescue. But in the wrong hands its a scary device like cops cruising the neighbourhood mind you cops tend to break the law more than your average citizen especially when it comes to traffic violations ( one of our local cops constantly brags about taking 10 min to drive what should be 25 min at the speed limit just to go to the next town for a coffee)
      • Heck. They've been doing that for decades. When my mother was working for city government (late 50s/early 60s), she used to tells us stories she'd been told from cops who bragged about turning on the lights and siren to speed through town in order to get to the Steak-N-Shake in time to have lunch with their buddies.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sabriel ( 134364 )
        How good is it at seeing inside walls? Because - while $14K is still way too expensive unless you're a big firm - being able to see the wiring/plumbing/vermin inside walls would be fantastic for a lot of tradespeople.
    • A look at the cost of some imagers. Note that there is a difference between thermal imagers and heat seekers. etc. [] The start at about $3900.00 and go up from there. A decent one that the cops will purchase with your tax dollars is about $14,000-$40,000 each. And cops love to spend your money on these fancy toys and go out of their way to justify why they need such extravagant equipment.
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      Go buy a roll of IR film. It's not that expensive, just not digital.

      If you want digital, buy a camera and cut off the IR filter.

      It's not quite as nice as an IR video camera but it does the job just fine. IR film in particular was frequently used to produce an image of heat leaks from houses.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @01:51PM (#30657676)

    The imager police where using was just that - an imager. This is just a cheap infrared thermometer. It's like comparing a motion sensor to a video camera, or your finger to your eyes.

    I literally laughed out loud when this post insinuated that a $150 thermometer was equivalent to a $5000+ vanadium oxide microbolometer.


    • by capt.Hij ( 318203 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @01:56PM (#30657792) Homepage Journal
      The point is should the cost matter? Someday that vanadium oxide microbolometer may be easier to obtain and be in more general use. Should the availability of the tech matter or should the courts actually use some sort of sound judgement about how intrusive authorities can be? The availability of the technology is not relevant to whether or not the government is stepping on your rights. The technology to break into your house has always been cheap and available yet for some reason surveillance is treated differently.
      • The courts will always go for the "least effort" ruling. If they can decide the case on some technicality without having to address the underlying issue, then they will punt the issue down the road to the next court to deal with.

        • That's not always true. Lately it has been; for whatever reason the court has been trying to rule in the narrowest way possible. Maybe they are trying to avoid another Roe VS Wade controversy, I don't know.

          But back in the days of Oliver Wendell Holmes, things were completely different. He was willing to take on everything from freedom of speech to interstate commerce, and apparently had no qualms twisting the law any way necessary to match his viewpoint. Maybe in another 10 years, after the great infla
      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

        Availability is relevant because of this scenario: what happens when anyone can tell the temperature of your roof just by grabbing their iPhone 8GS and switching it into thermal imaging mode? Or by going to Google Maps Realtime and clicking the "infrared" option. When everyone could do it simply by walking by your home, then would it make sense to still consider this intrusive?

        Maybe it will still be considered intrusive. Maybe it won't. I wonder if someone from 1920 would consider it invasive to use a r

        • I don't know if this is a bad thing or not, but the availability test does seem to measure what is considered intrusive by society.

          I'm not sure I buy it. Police LIDAR (LASER vehicle speed measurement device) units cost about $4,000, or about the same cost as FLIR (thermal imaging) equipment. Given their similar sticker prices, would you say that LIDAR and FLIR are roughly equivalently invasive?

          Personally, I do not. I think that FLIR, which is used to enable law enforcement to detect what is going on inside my home, is much more invasive than LIDAR, which is used to measure the velocity of my vehicle. This is mostly because I feel t

      • "The availability of the technology is not relevant to whether or not the government is stepping on your rights."

        Sure, but the trick is figuring out what constitutes "stepping on your rights", and how that changes over time.

        It sounds to me like the court is using price and "in general use" as proxies for how much privacy people can/should reasonably expect.

        Thirty years ago things like compact wireless video cameras were nearly unknown. Now they're built into your sixth-grader's phone. So in 1978 an average

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          If they want general use to mean it's legal, then the cops have no reason to bust a grower in the first place. Weed is certainly more generally used than a thermal imager.

          A more general principle should probably be that anything that can't be seen from the street with the naked eye is out of bounds without a warrant. Yes, binoculars and such are generally available and in the future thermal imagers may be too, but we generally consider people who use either to watch our homes to be voyeuristic creeps. The c

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by poopdeville ( 841677 )

        Should the availability of the tech matter or should the courts actually use some sort of sound judgement about how intrusive authorities can be?

        Yes. If you can't expect the general public not to do something, like looking into your home with cheap thermal imagers (hypothetically), then you can't expect the government not to. That is, if the public can do something, so can the government.

        The availability of the technology is not relevant to whether or not the government is stepping on your rights

        Yes it i

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      If it is possible to create a high-resolution endoscope imaging system using a single oscillating fibre-optic thread, a high-frequency crystal/mirror, would it not be possible to do the same with a simple infra-red thermometer sensor?

  • Cheap or Invasive? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Herkum01 ( 592704 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @01:51PM (#30657684)

    I think the question should be, how invasive and how common the technology should determine whether it can be used. Should a telescoping microphone be legal simply because it be can bought for $20 or because everyone has one? If everyone has one, then no one should expect to have privacy from it. If not, they only a specialist would have them, and special equipment would require special permissions, AKA a warrant.

    • by SpeedyDX ( 1014595 ) <> on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @02:25PM (#30658242)

      The Supreme Court of Canada took it in another direction in R. v. Tessling [] (Wikipedia summary []). Basically the SCC asked whether there was a significant privacy interest in images that don't provide any precise information on what's happening inside the home. This speaks to both points. The first is that the SCC determined that those images are not particularly invasive. You can see heat patterns, but no specific activities. The second point here is the emphasis on the subject matter of the image, and not whether the technology to produce that image is widely available.

      Thus with the SCC's stance, it seems that if there exists some technology that can look through the walls of a home and see precise activity, then that technology would at least require a warrant.

      In any event, I don't know if Kyllo's decision was that weak in the first place as to hinge on the question of whether a technology is widely/cheaply available. A much more important aspect of Kyllo seems to be the emphasis put on the "sanctity of the home". If the Court hears a similar case in the future, I'm positive that the sanctity of the home question will play a huge role in the decision.

  • I don't know whether the ruling is still sound, but it seems to me the original ruling was stupid anyway. If you're using anything, readily available and commonly used or not, to get a glimpse of what is going on inside a place you don't have a legal right to enter, how is it different than actually entering?
    • If your house is emitting any kind of radiations (EM, visible light, radio, sound, whatever), then anyone who can receive that radiation while standing in a public place should be able to use it as long as it's just passivly receiving.

  • Not the same. (Score:5, Informative)

    by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @01:52PM (#30657702)

    Thermal cameras used by the cops still cost quite a bit. We had one in the Heat & Mass lab in college and you had to give up your drivers license and student ID to borrow it out, and you couldn't even leave the building.

    The cheap devices on Amazon just look like non-contact temp sensors with some fancy electronics. If someone was trying to snoop around my house with one of the devices you linked to they'd probably be close enough to hit with a baseball bat.

    This is the cheapest I could find [] however something like this [] is probably required to do what you're afraid of.

    Still a valid question, but the 'cheap technology' isn't quite there yet.

    • I love the second link:

      Sale: $30,379.98

      Product Features:

      • Manufactured to the Highest Quality Available.
      • Design is stylish and innovative. Satisfaction Ensured.
      • Great Gift Idea.

      Nothing says great gift like a $30,000 thermal imager! But hey, it's Stylish!

    • by TheSync ( 5291 )

      Here is a thermal imager [] for $2,000.

    • Wasn't that ruling more about the fact that the police used something other than "in plain sight" to detect the lamps? I don't think they meant "you can only use inexpensive technology" when they made that ruling. If thermal imaging equipment was a free gift in a box of Cracker Jacks, it wouldn't change this ruling.

      The 4th amendment is designed to protect us *from* the government (police) regardless of how common or inexpensive the technology is.

    • by SQLGuru ( 980662 )

      I recognize that the original link was to a contactless thermometer type device. I've seen them on Woot and also had the A/C tech use them around my house to check vents. They seem to be fairly specific in target (usually with a red dot for targetting). So, if I took one of these devices and mapped your whole house, couldn't I get a (relatively low-res) version of what the $30k device does? Maybe not 1024x768x32M but 320x240x16 level resolution. And for the original stated purpose (finding heat lamps f

  • not in general use
    commonly available

    Just because you can buy it "cheap", does not mean a "clear majority" of people would know it is a possible spy attempt.
    i.e., you need to close your blinds so people can not see you ... (insert crime here)

    wiretapping is commonly known as a possibility, yet you still need a court order (ignoring patriot act-for sake of argument).

    Also ignoring, that most people believe cell phones are secure.

  • I thought that it was more about the expectation of privacy that people have inside their own homes and not just the ability to peer inside it.

    • I thought that it was more about the expectation of privacy that people have inside their own homes and not just the ability to peer inside it.

      You thought wrong... If something is "in plain view", then police needs no warrant to follow-up. For an obvious example, if a cop hears a shot inside a house, he needs no warrant to start investigating. Further, if the window/curtains are open and he can see a crime, his observations can (and should!) be used in court.

      Similarly, if we the humans were equipped to detect infra-red light, the police wouldn't have had no problem that's described in the write-up. Arguably, the humans are so equipped now — and that's, what the article is about...

      For example, 100 years ago we didn't really have electric lights and thus could barely see at night — without street lights. So, to notice something in your yard at night back then, the cops needed a warrant (for they had to drag some serious lightning equipment). Today they'll see it in their cruiser's headlights driving by and it is thus "in plain view".

      • That's the craziest interpretation of "in plain view" I think I've heard. Wiretapping equipment is cheap so it should it be available to the local police without a warrant because, in your estimation, we can "see" the electronic signals with equipment cheaply?

        To take the argument to its absurdity, crowbars are cheap so the police should be able to bust into your house without a warrant?
      • by toiletsalmon ( 309546 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @03:51PM (#30659418) Journal

        In plain view means just that, in plain view. Even using your analogy of headlights on a police cruiser, you still can't use headlights to peer into someone's house THROUGH THE WALL or ROOF.

        The spirit of the law is that people have the right to do just about whatever they want in their house, behind closed doors/walls without being subject to a "casual inspection" by the police. Sure, it allows some people to do "bad things" without getting caught sometimes, but more importantly, it keeps the government from being able to micromanage your daily life.

        Sure, because of "global terror" and a bunch of other scary words, people are more readily giving up their personal rights for "safety", but that doesn't automatically make it a good/smart thing.

        Basically, if it isn't grossly obvious that you're doing something illegal, the Police should leave you the hell alone and go find someone who IS breaking the law in public. In my experience, that's not a very difficult thing to find...

  • Bogus headline (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mi ( 197448 ) <> on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @02:04PM (#30657928) Homepage Journal

    Does Cheap Tech Undermine Legal Privacy Protections?

    The correct heading would've been: "Does Cheap Tech Ease Police Work?" And the answer is, yes it does. The court didn't declare marijuana-growing legal — it just said, that when the cops need to go out of their way to get information, they need a warrant. Once the devices, that were rare in 2000, become common place enough for each cruiser to have one, the information could be considered "in plain view" and no warrant is needed.

    Even more generally, the cheap tech makes things hitherto impossible or very hard, possible or even easy. If, indeed, the our concerns were really for privacy (rather than for obstructing justice, when it goes after crimes we feel shouldn't be crimes), we should worry about anyone using these and similar devices to, for example, "see through" walls, curtains, or bushes. If you can use them to take a picture of a rabbit in the night, your neighbor — or some "reality show" — can film you rolling in hay...

    Indeed, some time ago Animal Planet was presenting wonderful movies of African fauna. They were shot at night in such darkness, that the cats themselves couldn't see the cameras or each other. But the cameras saw them, and the picture was quite good... Roll forward a few years, and sponsorship by a heavy-weight like Mutual of Omaha will no longer be necessary to obtain such equipment...

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      Applying your reasoning the military-industrial complex that is the US government could easily start up a company to make eg. these [] or these [] and sell them well below their actual value to anyone who wants (say $20 or $50) and subsequently use them everywhere to make a real-time map of anyone's location.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        military-industrial complex that is the US government

        Actually, anybody familiar with the budget allocations [] knows, the US government is a giant annuity (Social Security, 21%), health insurance (Medicare 23%) and charity complex, with some military (21%) on a side. If you don't want off-topic responses, don't use off-topic flamebaits, Ok?

        US government could easily start up a company to make eg. these or these and sell them well below their actual value to anyone who wants (say $20 or $50) and subsequently us

    • Unfortunately, the constitution and courts disagree with your take on this.

      Courts have thrown out criminal cases where technology was used to look inside someones house to find them doing things that are illegal but they never would have known about without technology letting them see past the walls.

      Cops used to use infrared cameras in heli's to fly over houses looking for hotspots associated with people growing Marijuana. This worked for a while until someone with some money fought it. Now there is prece

  • Scanning ethics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @02:05PM (#30657948)

    In light of that, Kerr asks, is the Supreme Court's ruling still sound?"

    Anything reasonably available to you should be available to the police. Thermal imaging scanners, however cheap they become, will never be a commonly available item. Therefore, a warrant should be required because what they're looking for is not in plain sight. Think of telescoping lens and using infra-red to see through drapes to spy on people having sex. In this case, though the technology is readily available, the average person wouldn't do this. There is therefore a reasonable expectation of privacy that people aren't doing this for lawful purposes. Having sex in front of the bay windows of your house, during the day, without pulling the drapes back -- a passerby could see that, and therefore the police can bust you for indecent exposure.

    • I see in infra-red wavelengths you insensitive clod.

      Having sex in front of your bay windows without tinfoil drapes is indecent exposure. Which I love.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Thermal imaging scanners, however cheap they become, will never be a commonly available item.

      Why not? Isn't a thermal imaging scanner just a digital camera without an IR filter?

      • Wrong definition of infrared.

        There is short wavelength infrared, which is just below what the eye can detect. That is what your digital camera can pick up without it's IR filter. It is also the cheap "night vision" solution, commonly available on security cameras, and video cameras.

        What we're discussing here in long wavelength infrared. It is the light emitted by heat. Anything above 0 degrees kelvin puts off heat. That heat is visible as light, but only when it be

        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          People use digital cameras to make heat images all the time.

          If you want even better, go buy some IR film. You used to be able to pay a guy (or a kid with a hobby) to shoot some pictures of your house with IR film and show you where it was leaking heat.

          You're right, neither is the same as an expensive IR imager, but both will do just fine for finding grow ops. Particularly if you're a cop and you don't have to worry about the drug growers coming out of the house to beat you up during your hour long digital

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      "Thermal imaging scanners, however cheap they become, will never be a commonly available item."

      Yeah, everybody in the US doesn't have at least two of the things yet (probably).

      A digital camera is a "thermal imaging scanner" that, with a bit of basic photographic knowledge, should be fine for detecting whether the garage is hotter than the rest of the house.

      I guess most of the US cops don't have the advantage of just looking to see if there's any snow on the roof, hey?

  • Perhaps the government should mandate that the TSA has to catch a certain number of terrorists a month or face losing their jobs? You know, like how speeding tickets etc work? That would make them work harder than these machines will.
    • by valdis ( 160799 )

      Overlooking the fact that no police department will admit to a quota of speeding tickets.. ;)

      If there *is* a quota for speeding tickets, it's conceivably fulfillable - the town I live in has a police department of around 20 patrolmen, and if you require each to write 3 speeding tickets a day, they can probably do it because in a town of several tens of thousands of people, at least 60 a day will be speeding - it's a relatively common occurence.

      However, you can't say "Catch N terrorists a month" because ther

  • In all honesty, I and many folks I know could rig up a cheap explosive using some crap around the house and some chemicals in my garage for less than $50 bucks. The components are far more prevalent than these thermal imaging devices. That doesn't mean I should start using these explosives for fishing or concrete removal. Some technology is inherently dangerous by its very nature. It doesn't matter whether or not it is cheap, widespread, or used in everyday life, it still needs to be handled responsibly to
    • There has never, AFAIK, been a court ruling to the effect that a cop needs a warrant to walk by your house and look at at for evidence of illegal activity. Okay, he's not using an imaging device (except his own eyeballs) to do that -- but what if he wears glasses or contacts? Guess what, you're under surveillance with imaging technology.

      Fundamentally, I agree with you; the idea of cops going around and pointing IR sensors at people's houses in a fishing expedition for "probable cause" pisses me off. But

      • There is clearly a line beyond which a certain method of information gathering is no longer "unreasonable search," and I honestly don't think anyone knows exactly where that line is drawn.

        To me, the line should be set at a point where being a cop doesn't cripple your actions in comparison to regular citizens. That doesn't mean to me that a cop should be able to use any tech that is available to the general public without a warrant, but anything that becomes prevalent enough that a random person could expec

    • by Itninja ( 937614 )

      Some technology is inherently dangerous by its very nature.

      And some sentences are repetitive by saying the thing twice.

    • One day Terahertz imagers will be cheap, what then?

  • Stupid Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jaysyn ( 203771 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @02:11PM (#30658046) Homepage Journal

    Even if they did it with telepaths or clarivoyants it would still be an invasion of privacy.

  • If thermal imaging devices REALLY are that cheap, then there is a grand opening for people who want to do good.

    The constitution only prevents cops (and their agents) from collecting the thermal imaging data. It's perfectly lawful for citizens to scan their world. If a neighbor happens to detect a heat pattern far outside the norm along with all sorts of unusual foot traffic, then they could share the information with the cops and do their neighborhood a good turn.

    I've thought about toxic chemical sensing

  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @02:24PM (#30658226) Homepage

    In light of that, Kerr asks, is the Supreme Court's ruling still sound?

    IMO, the matter of the court's ruling on that basis is irrelevant.

    If I have a briefcase full of documents and leave it on the table in the coffeeshop while I use the bathroom, a police officer is not allowed to open it and look inside without a warrant. Certainly "opening a briefcase" is technology in common use. The Supreme Court's ruling may not be valid, but the 4th amendment still stands. While unavailability of technology may be an additional limitation on government authority, the availability of technology does not grant the government new authority which it does not have under The Constitution.

    Of course, this hangs on my personal and deeply held belief that "unreasonable" must be interpreted in the spirit in which it was intended in the minds of the liberty-oriented thinkers who wrote it.

    • The point was more like: If your neighbors can see into you house using a simple, easy to get, gadget, should the police be able to do the same.

      Cadillac has a car with IR cameras and a heads-up display that allows you to see about 150ft further on dark nights. This is a safety device. Imagine the future when better devices become commonplace. People will get fuzzy looks into their neighbor's houses by accident. Will the future police be able to use that as evidence?
  • Low Tech? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @02:26PM (#30658262) Homepage Journal

    An extension ladder up the side of the house to look into the attic windows is pretty low-tech.

    It's not just the 'low-tech' issue. It's about police power, Fourth Amendment, and due process.

    Pulling a visitor out of their car and interrrogating them about what is going on inside the house is pretty low-tech also. It's just intrusive. Non-intrusive tech is subject to reasonable limits, just like high-tech etc.

  • Look, if it's that easy to detect the heat coming off of a grow-op, then the growers should be out there detecting and stopping the leaks before the police do.

    I'm all in favor of privacy and civil liberties. But I also notice that the police routinely use things like helicopters and phone taps that the average citizen doesn't have access to. So it seems like maybe it was a bogus, or overly optimistic, ruling.

    I think that the police should be required to be open and above-board about their methods. They shou

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      Look, if it's that easy to detect the heat coming off of a grow-op, then the growers should be out there detecting and stopping the leaks before the police do.

      Congratulations, you've just discovered that cops primarily only catch the stupid criminals, plus or minus simple luck.

      That is a semi-useful argument about the use of thermal imagers, if they only catch the sub-100 IQ crowd, is that discrimination good or bad in itself as an activity with possibly racial overtones, and aside from that is the effect of that discrimination good or bad?

      • There's no such racial overtones for catching stupid criminals. Stupidity is universal.

        If you're looking for cops applying subtle procedures to effect racial discrimination without overtly discriminating, consider how Texas seems to patrol its highways around major holidays. I tend to see twice as many cops patrolling south-bound sides of freeways before the holidays, and north-bound sides of freeways after the holidays. While my observations are just one data point (and most certainly incomplete), a few

    • by valdis ( 160799 )

      Anybody with a few benjamins or so can charter a helicopter for a ride over the location and see whatever's visible from up there. Ordinary citizens certainly have access to it. See for example []

      Another point is that even in a helicopter, the cops are still constrained by the "in plain sight" requirement - they can't act on anything they see down there unless it's something that anybody else who happened to do a fly-over would see. If they do a fly-over

  • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <> on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @02:28PM (#30658288) Homepage Journal

    If the police are using something stronger than bi-focals to look at your house, they ought to have a warrant. That means they ought to have reasonable suspicion that a _specific_ crime is being committed.

    • by Tobor the Eighth Man ( 13061 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @03:40PM (#30659268)

      Mod parent up! All these other posts are acting like having to get a warrant means police can't do it.

      Warrants are routinely obtained for all sorts of things on relatively little evidence. If the police want to spy on someone with thermal cameras, let 'em convince a judge that it's reasonable to think you may be doing something illegal. That's what the warrant process is there for--trying to circumvent it defeats the purpose.

  • Because the barriers to the government are far lower than someone of modest means.

    I remember an episode of Weeds where the government finds a stolen cross by its signature (hanging parallel to the floor) in the garage of a home. While fictional, I don't think it is far from the truth. I do know that we've had satellites that can spot a single plant of MJ in a field of corn, though there is just too much data to go through (maybe with modern processing this has changed?)

    But the "right to privacy" that we en

  • Consider this: what if, instead of excess heat, marijuana growing operations frequently gave off yellow smoke as a byproduct. This smoke could be observed by the naked eye. Would the police have the authority to observe the smoke without a warrant, and deduce from that what they may?

    I don't really see this as being much different. The only difference is that the byproduct is invisible to the naked eye. Thermal imaging violates their privacy no more than a simple visual scan of the property would.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      They take that point of view here. The cops like to fly over in the helicopter with it's FLIR pod and check out houses. During the summer. In the winter they look for roofs with no snow.

  • by DJGrahamJ ( 589019 )
    What if glasses that could see though any matter became common place, would that mean we should never have a reasonable expectation of privacy? No way. Any surveillance that requires more than human eyes and a visible light source should have a warrant IMO.
  • It is not the price but the COMMONNESS that is important.

    If temp detection becomes so common that people expect their neighbors to be doing it, then and only then would it be OK for the police to do it. That would require some kind of strange fad like CB became.

    Similarly, it is not the price of high end audio espeionage equiptment that makes it illegal, but instead the fact that I would be shocked if I found out my neighbors were hooking them up to their wall and listening to me.

  • heat == marijuana? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rhewt ( 649974 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @03:39PM (#30659254) Homepage Journal
    Even if they could use a thermal imaging device, how would that solidify their accusations exactly?
  • by TomRC ( 231027 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @04:46PM (#30660266)

    There needs to be a "bright line" on this - that line should be "Any use of sensing devices beyond that of an unaugmented human, constitutes an illegal search."

    That would include remote thermal measuring devices, setting up cameras to watch a house, use of sound amplification, etc.

    For that matter, I would prefer that a warrant be required even to post an officer to watch continuously - i.e. the bright line should be "no more than the equivalent of casual, unaugmented observation". So a police officer could drive by a location, but setting up surveillance would require a warrant. But I don't expect we're likely to see that sort of roll-back of surveillance powers.

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker