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Judge Samuel Alito's police-friendly views of electronic surveillance


Nominee's past rulings give hint of tech views
November 1, 2005, 4:58 PM PST


In a case decided last year, Alito ruled that the FBI did not need a 
warrant to outfit the hotel suite of a boxing official with a hidden 
audio recorder and remotely controlled video camera that could swivel 
360 degrees. The devices were activated when a police informant was also 
present in the room of the official, who was suspected of taking bribes.

Alito's fellow judge Theodore McKee, a Clinton appointee, dissented on 
the grounds that advances in surveillance technology would eviscerate 
the privacy principles found in the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of 
"unreasonable searches."

"Given the evolving sophistication of technology, it is increasingly 
imperative that the fundamental liberties guaranteed under the Fourth 
Amendment not be eroded by the warrantless use of devices that allow the 
government to see through curtains, walls and doors," McKee wrote. "To 
the extent the Fourth Amendment has any vitality in an era of 
increasingly sophisticated electronic eavesdropping, it surely protects 
the privacy of someone in the intimacy of a hotel suite from the 
potential of warrantless 24-hour video surveillance."


In another case decided in 2002 by the 3rd Circuit Court, police in 
Pennsylvania acted on a six-month-old tip that a high school teacher was 
viewing illegal adult pornography on the Internet. They obtained a 
search warrant for the teacher's home and found child pornography on his 
computer's hard drive.

In an opinion written by Judge Maryanne Barry, another Clinton 
appointee, the 2-1 majority said the search warrant was invalid because 
the tip was "stale" and based on a dubious source. Also, they said, 
police had no probable cause to look for any kind of pornography, and 
investigators should not go on a fishing expedition through a suspect's 
hard drive just to find some sort of incriminating files.

Alito dissented. "The previously-noted incidents alleged in the 
affidavit showed that the defendant had a sexual interest in minors and 
that he had used sexual materials on several occasions as part of his 
course of conduct," he wrote. "All of this information tends to support 
a finding of probable cause."


Posted by Declan McCullagh on Nov 01, 2005 in category privacy

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