The small town of Platte City, Missouri, just north of Kansas City is the setting of the latest story in a growing police surveillance state. According to the ACLU blog, it was here that city officials set up a camera and trained it into the backyard of a resident, for reasons that are yet somewhat hazy.
Stephanie Santos and her father live in a duplex in Platte City. She noticed a camera attached to a tree in a vacant lot right next to her home. The camera was aimed into her backyard and on her bedroom window.
When she inquired about the camera, she was told it was to watch people walking through the woods. Later, the city said it was to gather information on allegations that her father was feeding wild cats. In either event, it wasn’t legal. Just after she complained, the camera was removed.
Santos called an attorney, who wrote to the city explaining that having a camera trained into someone’s private property and particularly into her home, was a blatant violation of the 4th Amendment. They agreed and responded via letter.
And that’s where it stood until Thursday night, when I was contacted by a lawyer who was representing the city. He said he had talked to the city, that they would not do this any more, that mayor was very upset, and that the mayor has written an official letter of apology to our client. They faxed that to me Friday—it’s a good letter. It expresses regret and acknowledges to our client that the incident was an “intrusion into the privacy of you and your family.” He wrote, “this action on our part leads to distrust of government at all levels and I am committed to taking steps to rebuild that trust with you and your family.”
It would seem that police officers who mounted the cameras would know such surveillance would create a 4th Amendment issue. You would think they would receive some training on the Constitutional protections they are expected to adhere to. But, perhaps that training was cut or never existed.
Stories like this, where we find ourselves consistently coming under greater surveillance by the state, are becoming more common. Particularly when we are in public, we’re on camera and don’t even realize it. The constitutionality of these cameras presents concerns that will continue to pervade our news stories and courts.