Privacy laws remain undefined by supreme court

Holly M. Anderson

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The Clinton scandal has brought to the table a variety of topics we may have thought otherwise unnecessary in public discussion. Among the most frequently discussed, but perhaps least vivid in the minds of most Americans, is the underlying issue of privacy.On Tuesday, Supreme Court justices were forced to examine privacy on a less national level when asked to decide if guests in a person’s home have a right to privacy.

The case, originating in 1994, centered around the privacy of two men arrested in Minnesota on drug charges. It made its way to the Supreme Court on appeal after being dubbed “the peeping Tom” case.

A police officer, on a tip from an informant, approached an apartment window and peered through Venetian window blinds. He saw three people inside bagging “white powder,” a k a cocaine. The Minnesota Supreme Court found that the officer’s look through the window was an illegal search and sought to withhold the evidence.

The justices had to decide whether or not the police officer acted lawfully when peering through the window without first receiving a warrant.

Let’s consider for a moment that the officer’s informant was mistaken, that he thought he saw something he didn’t. The officer, unknowingly, still would have approached the window. Not seeing what he was informed about, he would have crept away, leaving the inhabitants of the home unaware of his presence. Most home-owners would agree that even a police officer with good intentions is invading their privacy under such circumstances.

The justices considered many hypothetical situations. They weighed the privacy rights of baby-sitters vs. Avon ladies and poker playing buddies. Ultimately, they came to the conclusion that temporary guests, who have no control over the household, have no expectation of privacy and therefore they won’t receive any. When the Supreme Court came to this decision, it did so with the understanding that the officer in question had reasonable cause for his actions. The officer in question should be used as an example to avoid similar confusion in the future.

Regardless of whether people are guests in the home of a friend or an acquaintance, they should be granted the same privacy they would have in their own homes.

If the owner of the home or some other person believes that illegal activity is being conducted within that home, then the police department should be expected to go through the correct procedures to obtain a search warrant.

The officer in the peeping Tom case should be reprimanded for his actions, regardless of his intentions to better society.