Secret FBI Flights Raise Fourth Amendment Concerns
The Tampa Bay Times recently reported on a strange site being observed in the skies over several American cities like Cape Coral: low-flying civilian aircraft appearing to belong to suspicious businesses and equipped with numerous antennae and other surveillance gear. To whom do these aircraft belong? According to the Associated Press, the planes are part of a fleet operated in secret by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Law enforcement officials claim that the aircraft are only used for surveillance and to collect information in “targeted” investigations. However, critics claim that the Fourth Amendment rights of civilians are in danger because of this program.
What Are My Fourth Amendment Rights?
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from government action that amounts to “unreasonable” search and/or seizure activity. A well-known example of the Fourth Amendment in action occurs when law enforcement officers are required to obtain a search warrant in order to search your house or when they must demonstrate probable cause before arresting an individual.
Generally there is no Fourth Amendment protection for things or activities about which you do not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” For instance, police can generally go through your garbage cans that you put out for trash day without infringing upon your Fourth Amendment rights because you do not have a “reasonable expectation” that the contents of your garbage will remain private. Similarly, the police are able to observe and photograph you in public as you do not have a reasonable expectation that your appearance or activities in public would remain private.
How Does the FBI’s Program Impact Fourth Amendment Rights?
Critics of the FBI’s aircraft surveillance program generally do not have a concern with the fact that these aircraft can photograph innocent individuals in public as this generally does not violate the Fourth Amendment (even though it may unsettle some citizens). However, these FBI aircraft are also said to be equipped with antennae and other equipment that can be used to either listen to cellphone calls or collect data from cellphone calls. This could very easily be a violation of individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights.
What Happens When My Fourth Amendment Rights are Violated?
Consider an individual who is not under suspicion by law enforcement and for whose cellphone records and recordings no search warrant has been issued. Suppose a low-flying FBI flight overhears a call she makes from a public place while the FBI is supposed to be listening to the calls of another individual. The woman arranges a sale of illegal drugs with the caller on the other end of the line. Based on what they hear, the woman is arrested and charged with drug distribution.
This woman’s Fourth Amendment rights have likely been violated. Under a legal doctrine known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree,” your Florida criminal defense attorney can have evidence that was obtained in violation of your rights thrown out of court. This can make it difficult – or even impossible – for the prosecution to proceed with its case against you.
Florida criminal defense attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner has helped many South Florida residents charged with crimes based on improperly obtained evidence. He will fight to ensure that your rights are respected and that the government is made to follow the law. Contact the office today at (305) 670-9919 if you have been charged with a criminal offense.