Are there government spies on your land? Do you think it’s right for any government agency to mount trail cameras and other spying devices on your farm, ranch? My knee-jerk reaction is not only NO, but HELL NO. Yet, on further reflection…
There is a disturbing case in Tennessee of a landowner finding government Wildlife Agency trail cameras placed surreptitiously on his land. They were reportedly set up to record his “poaching” activities. In short, spy cameras. Is this legal? Before we answer that, let’s consider the context.
Government Spies on Your Land to Prevent Poaching
Apparently the spying was done on a person or persons previously convicted of game law violations. Let’s assume that the Tennessee Wildlife Agency officials suspected serious additional violations were underway on the property. Does this give them the right to set up cameras on that property?
If we answer no, we must then ask “Does a game warden/conservation officer have the right to trespass onto private property to physically watch for illegal activity? Can he/she use binocular, spotting scope, or camera?”
Carte Blanche Poaching?
If government “spies” do not have those rights, does that then give landowners license to do whatever they want with the public resource (wildlife?) This is what the Brits call a “sticky wicket.” On the one hand we have freedom, private property rights, individual rights. “By God it’s my land and I’ll do what I want with it!” On the other hand, the wildlife crossing and living (wholly or partly) on that land belongs to the public at large. Kind of like air. And to a large degree, water. Do we really want to allow every landowner the right to shoot every deer, goose, or turkey on his or her land?
Are Government Spies on Your Land Legal?
Turns out, according to the Supreme Court, it is legal for government to place persons or cameras, etc. on your land to spy on you! Our Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure without a warrant do not extend beyond domicile and curtilage, meaning immediate surroundings such as yard and outbuildings, but not necessarily fields and ponds.
The Fourth Amendment Says…
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Land Wasn’t Mentioned
One might loosely interpret the word “effects” in the Fourth Amendment to include land, but that’s a stretch. And it didn’t stretch through the Supreme Court, which has for some 100 years limited Fourth Amendment protections to just what the words claim. This means wildlife officers, drug enforcement officers, police, etc. have the right to spy on your land in person, with trail cameras, aerial drones, spotting scopes set on a public road, probably even satellites.
This Magazine Report Details Government Spies on Your Land Case in TN
You can read a detailed report on this Tennessee case here. Please do, cogitate on it, and let us know what you think? Is the Supreme Court correct? Should government spies on your land be legal?
Like most of us outdoorsmen, Ron Spomer is concerned about wildlife, conservation, and individual rights and liberty.