Cops Are Dressing Up Like FedEx Guys and Arresting People for Drugs

A federal court ruled this month that evidence of drugs obtained by police from a package at a FedEx sorting center was not seized unconstitutionally, rejecting the defendant’s arguments that the seizure violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

At the center of the decision is a little-known agreement allowing law enforcement agencies to confiscate parcels at the shipping behemoth’s sorting centers. Police are permitted to take packages only if a drug dog indicates there may be contraband inside. Individual cops, however, determine which packages merit attention, allowing them to zero in on people’s property, dress up as FedEx delivery men, and proceed with arrests if they testify that a drug dog alerted them appropriately.

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Court Ruling Strips Apartment Dwellers Of Fourth Amendment Rights – Leaves Hallways Open To Warrantless Police Surveillance & Arrests

Pushing back against a lower court ruling that leaves apartment dwellers vulnerable to warrantless surveillance and arrests, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that the hallways outside apartments are protected curtilage which police may not invade without a warrant or a resident’s consent. In an amicus brief filed in Sorenson v. Massachusetts, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that just as the “curtilage” of detached homes are off-limits to police without a warrant, areas immediately adjacent to an apartment should also be considered protected curtilage under the Fourth Amendment.

Affiliate attorneys David J. Feder, Nathaniel P. Garrett, and Jeremy R. Kauffman of Jones Day in California assisted in advancing the arguments in the Sorenson brief.

“As James Otis recognized, ‘A man’s house is his castle.’ Whether that castle takes the form of an apartment, a humble hut, or a mansion is not the issue,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Privacy should not depend on your home’s square footage. The Fourth Amendment forcefield that protects against warrantless government invasions and surveillance does not discriminate.”

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Pasco County Cops Harassed Them and Searched Their Homes Without Warrants. A Judge Says They Can Sue.

It’s not every day you receive a letter from the local police department congratulating you on your acceptance into an exclusive program. Such is the story shared by several residents in Pasco County, Florida, a community in the Tampa area. One problem: None of the recipients applied.

“We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to participate in a Prolific Offender Program,” reads a letter from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO). “Research indicates that barriers to successful living may involve struggles with mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, finding a job, or several other challenges many people face on a daily basis. It is possible you have struggled with some of these issues. If so, please know the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is committed to support you in overcoming these challenges through this program.”

The “support” it offers, originally detailed in an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times, includes sending cadres of cops to people’s homes, where officers show up unannounced, harassing them and their family members, performing warrantless searches on their homes, and trying to nab them on petty offenses, like having grass that is too tall. The lucky winners were “selected as a result of an evaluation of your recent criminal behavior,” according to the PCSO, “using an unbiased, evidence-based risk assessment designed to identify prolific offenders in our community.”

In other words, the program is ostensibly trying to keep people out of trouble and deter future criminal behavior before anything goes dramatically awry. That sounds well-intentioned on the surface. But its “relentless pursuit” of community members has ruthlessly entangled people with the state—including targets’ family and friends—trampling over their Fourth Amendment rights in the process, says a recent lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm.

Their clients received good news this week: Though the PCSO sought to have the suit dismissed on a litany of different grounds, a federal judge struck each down in a ruling issued on Wednesday, allowing the claim to proceed.

“The Fourth Amendment protects the right to be safe and secure in your person and property,” says Ari Bargil, an attorney on the suit. “This program violates that right,” he notes, “because it allows and requires Pasco County Sheriff’s Office deputies to approach people at their home, harass them, refuse to leave, and in some instances demand entry without a warrant. These are obvious and clear Fourth Amendment violations.”

Sheriff Chris Nocco, the brains behind the program, openly admitted that it’s intended to do more than what the congratulatory letter implies: He hopes it will “take them out” of the community, he said, with one of his former employees conceding that their job was to “make their lives miserable until they move or sue.”

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Victory! Fourth Circuit Rules Baltimore’s Warrantless Aerial Surveillance Program Unconstitutional

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled last week that Baltimore’s use of aerial surveillance that could track the movements of the entire city violated the Fourth Amendment.

The case, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle v. Baltimore Police Department, challenged the Baltimore Police Department’s (BPD) use of an aerial surveillance program that continuously captured an estimated 12 hours of coverage of 90 percent of the city each day for a six-month pilot period. EFF, joined by the Brennan Center for Justice, Electronic Privacy Information Center, FreedomWorks, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Rutherford Institute, filed an amicus brief arguing that the two previous court decisions upholding the constitutionality of the program misapplied Supreme Court precedent and failed to recognize the disproportionate impact of surveillance, like Baltimore’s program, on communities of color.

In its decision, the full Fourth Circuit found that BPD’s use and analysis of its Aerial Investigation Research (AIR) data was a warrantless search that violated the Fourth Amendment. Relying on the Supreme Court’s decisions in United States v. Jones and United States v. Carpenter, the Fourth Circuit held that Carpenter—which ruled that cell-site location information was protected under the Fourth Amendment and thus may only be obtained with a warrant—applied “squarely” to this case. The Fourth Circuit explained that the district court had misapprehended the extent of what the AIR program could do. The district court believed that the program only engaged in short-term tracking. However, the Fourth Circuit clarified that, like the cell-site location information tracking in Carpenter, the AIR program’s detailed data collection and 45-day retention period gave BPD the ability to chronicle movements in a “detailed, encyclopedic” record, akin to “attaching an ankle monitor to every person in the city.”

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Journalist Can’t Sue Rod Rosenstein for Alleged Illegal Spying on Her Family During Obama Admin Because of Qualified Immunity

Television journalist Sharyl Attkisson and her family sued former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein for illegally spying on them in violation of the Fourth Amendment and federal law during the Obama administration. A federal court dismissed the lawsuit earlier this week by finding that Rosenstein is entitled to qualified immunity.

The controversy has taken numerous paths through the legal system since the Attkissons claimed they discovered that the government had hacked into their computers and cellphones in 2014—first filing a lawsuit against former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, and numerous “John Doe” agents with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) based on alleged violations of the First and Fourth Amendments.

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No Warrant, No Problem; How Government Buys Its Way Around the 4th Amendment

When the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that law enforcement agencies need warrants before they can request geolocation data from cell phone companies, civil liberties advocates touted the judgment as a major win for privacy.

But since then, government agencies have devised a new surveillance method: instead of getting warrants to force companies to provide data, they simply purchase the information from brokers. Call it entrepreneurial innovation in the market for tyranny.

The scope of this activity has been slowly revealed over the last year, beginning with a February 2020 Wall Street Journal article, which reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has “bought access to a commercial database that maps the movements of millions of cellphones in American and is using it for immigration and border enforcement.” Later reports revealed that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) purchase similar data.

Had the world not essentially collapsed about a month later, this might have been big news. Alas, government’s data purchases have gone largely unpublicized in the midst of pandemics, riots, elections, and so on.

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FBI SEIZED CONGRESSIONAL CELLPHONE RECORDS RELATED TO CAPITOL ATTACK

WITHIN HOURS OF the storming of the Capitol on January 6, the FBI began securing thousands of phone and electronic records connected to people at the scene of the rioting — including some related to members of Congress, raising potentially thorny legal questions.

Using special emergency powers and other measures, the FBI has collected reams of private cellphone data and communications that go beyond the videos that rioters shared widely on social media, according to two sources with knowledge of the collection effort.

In the hours and days after the Capitol riot, the FBI relied in some cases on emergency orders that do not require court authorization in order to quickly secure actual communications from people who were identified at the crime scene. Investigators have also relied on data “dumps” from cellphone towers in the area to provide a map of who was there, allowing them to trace call records — but not content — from the phones.

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Supreme Court to Decide if Police Can Warrantlessly Raid Homes and Seize Guns of Innocent Citizens

Last week, the Free Thought Project reported on HR 127, the most tyrannical gun bill ever proposed. The bill would target the poor by forcing citizens to pay $800 per year to possess firearms that they are required to register. It also bans multiple legal guns and ammo types, turning tens of millions of Americans into felons over night. While this bill is, without a doubt, the worst gun bill in history, it didn’t lay out any guidelines for violating a citizen’s Fourth Amendment right. Next month, however, the Supreme Court will be considering exactly that — can cops enter a home to seize guns without a warrant?

That escalated quickly.

In March, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Caniglia v. Strom, which asks the question of whether the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement extends to the home.

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Arizona High Court Misses Opportunity to Uphold Internet Users’ Online Privacy

It’s an uncontroversial position that EFF has long fought for: Internet users expect their private online activities to stay that way. That’s why law enforcement should have to get a search warrant before getting records of people’s Internet activities. 

But in a disappointing decision earlier this month, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected a warrant requirement for services to disclose Internet users’ activities and other information to law enforcement, a setback for people’s privacy online.

In a 4-3 opinion, the Arizona high court ruled in State v. Mixton that people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in information held by online services that record their online activities, such as IP address logs. According to the Court, that information is not protected by either the federal Constitution’s Fourth Amendment or the state’s constitution, because people disclose that information to third-party online services whenever they use them, a legal principle known as the third-party doctrine.

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