Drug agents used a thermal imager to try to figure out what was going on in the home of Danny L. Kyllo. The instrument can detect infrared radiation, which is to say that it can pick up on unusual heat. The agents were thus able to figure out that Kyllo was probably using lots of light bulbs to help grow marijuana. They were then able to obtain a search warrant: they found marijuana, and they arrested Kyllo.
The case is now in the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices will decide if agents standing outside a home and looking inside by means of such a device is equivalent to the unconstitutional practice of an unreasonable search. If common sense is a guide, it is.
In a case such as this one, which involves high-tech instruments the country's founders never imagined, it obviously is crucial to focus on the principle incorporated in the constitutional language that they crafted. They had to have understood that unfettered searches by police could in fact result in bringing large numbers of criminals to justice. Their concern clearly was something else: to protect the dignity of the person from governmental intrusiveness and make homes as nearly inviolable under law as reasonableness would permit -- even at the risk of some criminals escaping detection.
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