Law Enforcement May Soon Need Warrants To Use Cameras On Remote Private Property

Rob Poindexter

Updated 11 months ago

Police may soon need a warrant to use cameras on secluded private property.State lawmakers have moved a step closer to passing a law that would require that.Senator Doug Thomas’ proposal sounded logical enough. His bill would ban the placement of cameras and surveillance mechanisms on private property without written permission from landowners. The bill passed unanimously through the Judiciary Committee.But at the request of law enforcement officials they reconsidered that vote Friday. The head of the Maine Warden Service proposed an amendment that would let law enforcement agencies use cameras without a warrant if they have information or a reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed.”We utilize these cameras to get in there and deploy them on the site,” Wilkinson told the committee. “If you’re not familiar with poaching or drug related cultivation stuff can happen very quickly. Suspects can get in and get out very quickly. We utilize those cameras to document the activities on the known area of where the suspected activity occurred.” The bill’s sponsor says it should go forward as is, telling the committee he does not think law enforcement should be exempted.”You can put a camera up outside the curtilage of my house and you can see in the bedroom window. If that’s going to happen I think it should happen with a warrant,” Thomas told the committee.Deputy Attorney General Bill Stokes also testified before the committee. He says law enforcement are required to get warrants before using a camera that could spy on someone’s home.Current law allows law enforcement to use cameras without a warrant in remote areas where there’s a lesser expectation of privacy under the “Open Fields Doctorine.” This bill, if passed, would wipe that out.Wilkinson says wardens must have probable cause to get a warrant allowing them to seize evidence but with less than 100 wardens patrolling the entire state, often it’s the game cameras that provide that probable cause.”There is no intention for any law enforcement organization in this state to put out cameras blindly without a reason or information to do so that a crime is being committed,” Wilkinson told lawmakers. “It would certainly be outside of the curtilage of the protected area.”Wilkinson and Stokes told lawmakers if they pass this legislation as is, without the amendment exempting law enforcement it could cause crimes like poaching and drug cultivation such as methamphetamine labs and marijuana grows to increase.The committee disagreed, voting down the amendment and passing the bill once again as is. The proposal now faces further votes in the House and Senate.


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