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Thermal Imaging and the 'Fourth'

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2001
2 pages
This article reviews court decisions regarding whether the use of thermal imaging technologies on the exterior of homes violates the fourth amendment right against unreasonable searches.
The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Several cases have come before courts concerning the use of thermal imaging technology applied to the exterior of a house to discover the “hot spots” created by fluorescent lamps used to cultivate marijuana indoors. The main question before the courts is whether the thermal imaging amounts to an unreasonable search. Several court cases are summarized; most of the court outcomes have indicated that, currently, thermal imaging applied to the exterior of a house is not considered an unreasonable search because interior details of homes are not revealed by thermal imaging scans. Courts have warned that in the future, with the advancement of technology, thermal imaging may reveal internal details and thus, would require a search warrant. A Supreme Court case on this issue is pending and should be decided by July 2001.

Date Published: January 1, 2001