US Supreme Court leaves warrantless camera surveillance an open book

The US Supreme Court has refused to hear a petition to review the legality of warrantless surveillance from a camera placed on a utility pole, leaving in place a conflicting set of interpretations about the scope of privacy protection in America.

The Supremes left in place an appellate ruling that gives federal agents in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island – the areas covered by the First Circuit Court of Appeals – the right to record people’s houses from the street as much as they want without a warrant, despite legal precedent to the contrary in Massachusetts.
Last November, the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Supreme Court to review Moore v. United States in order to clarify the ambit of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people against unreasonable search and seizure.

The case followed a drug investigation in which agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) set up an inconspicuous surveillance camera on a utility pole in Massachusetts to watch a residence over an eight-month period. The camera provided real-time surveillance capabilities and was set up without a warrant.

Initially, the investigation focused on Dinelson Dinzey and Nia Moore-Bush (later Nia Dinzey after marriage), the daughter of homeowner and petitioner Daphne Moore.

Moore-Bush and four-defendants were indicted for illegal drug distribution on January 11, 2018. She pleaded guilty of drug trafficking, firearms and money laundering conspiracy six months later. In December 2018, Daphne Moore was indicted for illegal drug distribution, conspiracy, money laundering, and making false statements to authorities.

Moore and Moore-Bush sought to suppress the evidence gathered as a consequence of the pole camera and a federal district court granted that motion, determining that placing the camera for eight months required a warrant.

The government appealed and a portion of the First Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the government and reversed the suppression of evidence. The petitioners filed for further review, an en banc hearing before the full First Circuit. But the appeals court let the decision stand, even though the judges deadlocked 3-3 on whether long-term video surveillance of a home and its surroundings violated the Fourth Amendment.

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