Thursday, September 30, 2010

What is unreasonable search and seizure?

Patrick Jonsson of the Christian Science Monitor writes that the federal government has bought and is using vans equipped with backscatter x-ray technology to scan random vehicles

This is borderline unconstitutional. The 4th Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches. But some people don't see this as a 4th amendment issue, but as solely a security issue. As a security issue, it is already been implemented:

On Tuesday, a counterterror operation snarled truck traffic on I-20 near Atlanta, where Department of Homeland Security teams used mobile X-ray technology to check the contents of truck trailers. Authorities said the inspections weren't prompted by any specific threat.

I see a problem here. They are scanning vehicles for no reason. There is no threat prompting the scans, they're just doing it to see if they can find anything. To my mind that is an unreasonable search. Police have broad powers to search a car on the highway, but they have to have a reasonable suspicion that something illegal is happening.

Several of the statements by officials in this article show a fast and loose attitude towards citizens rights. One says that there isn't enough detail to embarrass anyone. Another says law enforcement already has broad search and seizure power on highways. Neither statement shows a very high regard for personal privacy or freedom. They rank up there with, "If you're not doing anything wrong you don't have anything to worry about."

These vans are an excellent tool in our anti-terrorism arsenal - if used properly. But using them for random scans of vehicles that there is no reason to think may be involved in terrorism is an abuse. Like any abuse, it must be stopped.