The idea of a police officer using a telescope to peer into your home to discover evidence of a crime may feel unnerving. It should also deeply concern you, as using such methods to breach your privacy could violate your constitutional rights.
As a citizen of the United States, you enjoy a fundamental right to privacy. However, exceptions such as the plain view doctrine sometimes set aside privacy protections. Still, the plain view doctrine does not grant police officers the automatic right to use surveillance equipment on your property.
How the plain view doctrine works
U.S. courts have generally ruled that privacy does not apply to private property that the public can view. If a police officer is able to see your property with ordinary human vision, the Fourth Amendment is unlikely to apply.
Common examples include objects that are visible through your vehicle windows or objects that lie beyond the curtilage of your home. Additionally, garbage bags that you place on the public curb do not fall under privacy protections.
The legal use of enhanced surveillance
For the plain view doctrine to come into play, a police officer must see your property unaided by surveillance technology. If law enforcement has to use telescopic lenses to get a look into your residence or other parts of your property, you may have suffered a Fourth Amendment violation of your rights.
Whether or not an enhanced surveillance search is legal depends on satisfying Fourth Amendment requirements such as the use of a warrant. It is important to understand whether the police have done so, as your freedom may depend on it in a criminal case.