Washington, D.C.—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today urged the Supreme Court today to review and reverse a lower court decision in United States v. Tuggle finding that police didn’t need a warrant to secretly record all activity in front of someone’s home 24 hours a day, for a year and a half.
The Fourth Amendment protects people against lengthy, intrusive, always-on video recording—especially when that video records all activity outside their homes, EFF said today in a brief filed with the court. Our homes are our most private and protected spaces, and police should not film everything that happens at the home without prior court authorization—even if police cameras are positioned on public property. In this case, police used three cameras mounted on utility poles to secretly record Travis Tuggle’s life 24/7 for 18 months. Surveillance like this can reveal intimate details of our private lives, such as when we’re home, who visits and when, what packages we receive, who our children are, and more.
The Supreme Court recognized in the landmark 2018 case Carpenter v. United States that tracking people’s physical movements using cell phone records creates a chronicle of our lives, and collecting such data without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment. Because of its capacity to create detailed records of what goes on at people’s homes, long-term, warrantless pole camera surveillance is likewise unconstitutional.
EFF, along with the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, is urging the Supreme Court to take up Tuggle’s case. It would be the first time the court has considered the rules around warrantless pole camera surveillance.
“If left to stand, the lower court’s ruling would allow police to secretly video record anyone’s home, at any time,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker.
EFF and its partners argue that today’s video cameras make it easy for the government to collect massive amounts of information about someone’s private life. They are small, inexpensive, easily hidden, and capable of recording in the dark and zooming in to record even small text from far away. Footage can be retained indefinitely and combined with other police tools like facial recognition and filtering to enhance police capabilities.
“We urge the Court to grant certiorari and rule that using pole cameras to collect information about the comings and goings around someone’s home implicates Fourth Amendment protections,” said EFF Surveillance Litigation Director Jennifer Lynch.
For the brief: