Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court held arguments on cases involving police use of dog detection dogs, and the ability of citizens to sue when they think their conversations have been monitored under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These are important matters, with important long-term implications for the privacy of all Americans.
I had the chance to discuss these cases on Pittsburgh Public Radio’s Essential Pittsburgh talk show. To hear the complete audio file, click here.
In the dog sniff case of Florida v. Jardines, the Court looked at the basic question of whether police could walk a drug-sniffing dog up to a person’s front door to search (that is, sniff) for narcotics inside without a warrant or probable cause. It’s an interesting question: the Court has allowed police to use dogs this way in past cases on objects like luggage and vehicles, but they have also said in other cases that the home is different and deserves more protection. In the week’s other dog sniff case, Florida v. Harris, the Court debated the accuracy of the dogs; it turns out, contrary to what most people think, they are not perfect.
In the FISA case, the Congress passed a statute that validated former President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping system. This law allowed the government to listen in on communications of Americans in some limited circumstances without a warrant. A number of journalists, lawyers for terrorism suspects, and human rights organizations sued, alleging that their communications were almost certainly tapped under the law. But they could not know for sure, because the government keeps these taps secret and had refused to confirm or deny that any of the plaintiffs had had their communications intercepted. The government therefore argues that the plaintiffs can’t prove they’ve been harmed. It’s a classic Catch-22.