April 20, 2024


Law enforcement in Kansas recorded the front of a man’s home for 68 days straight, 15 hours a day, and obtained evidence to prove him guilty on 16 charges. The officers did not have a search warrant, using a camera on a pole positioned across the street to capture Bruce Hay’s home. A federal court ruled on Tuesday that it was fine for law enforcement to do so, in what’s potentially a major reduction in privacy law.

“Mr. Hay had no reasonable expectation of privacy in a view of the front of his house,” said the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in its decision on U.S. vs Hay. “As video cameras proliferate throughout society, regrettably, the reasonable expectation of privacy from filming is diminished.”

Hay, an Army veteran, was found guilty of lying about his disability status to collect benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). However, the concerning part of this case stems from how VA officers collected evidence against Hay. The veteran appealed his case, arguing that the months-long surveillance of his home crossed a line. However, the federal court ruled that law enforcement can videotape the outside of your home, partially because of how prominent video cameras have become in society.

The federal court’s decision says that video cameras have become “ubiquitous,” and have therefore diminished our expectations of privacy. Police officers wear body cameras now, cellphones have cameras, and many doorbells record your porch. The court isn’t wrong that cameras are everywhere.

However, law enforcement has a long history of blurring the lines of privacy with modern recording technology. Politico detailed how Ring handed over a full day’s worth of camera footage against a man’s will, in order to convict his neighbor of a crime. The network of Ring cameras also was used by law enforcement for years to obtain footage of criminals without search warrants.

Invasive searches of private property typically require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant. In this case, VA officers received a tip that Hay was not actually disabled, so they went ahead with recording his house without acquiring a warrant. The court argued that was okay because anyone walking by Hay’s house could see what the camera saw.

However, most people walking past your house are not sitting there for two months straight. Recording the outside of your home for months on end can paint a pretty intimate picture of your life. Hay argued that this allowed law enforcement to learn his habits, and understand when he entered and exited his home, and who came into his house.

U.S. vs Hay sets a precedent around how cameras can be used by law enforcement. It clearly defines what federal agents can record, and also what is considered a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” According to this case, the front of your home is not private at all.

A version of this article originally appeared on Gizmodo.



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