Radiation searches...

There's some controversy over whether radiation sensors require warrants when used by police searches.  Volokh suggests that the standard should be based on precedents about heat sensors pointed at homes (warrants are required), combined with those that indicate serious crimes don't get exceptions for being serious crimes.  I agree with that principle, but I think radiation is distinguishable; among other things it poses an independent health hazard in high enough levels.

While, say, directing X-rays through a building to a receiver on the other side would clearly be an unconstitutional search, merely checking for excessive radiation levels outside a building is quite reasonable and should be admissible in court.

The precedents for heat sensors are also correct; heat sensors are substantially more invasive (because many normal and legal activities generate detectable heat), and the level of heat at which a public health hazard exists is generally quite visible to the naked eye in the form of smoke and flame.

Once you start stepping on to (public spaces of) private property in order to conduct such a search, however, things rapidly become more complex.  I would still be OK with people carrying detectors that can register hazardous-to-health levels of radiation, chemical agents, etc, so long as they remain in areas truly open to the public and don't need to make false representations in order to gain entry. 

I say this because, as a private citizen, I might well want to carry a radiation detector along with me as an early warning of radiation hazard, if I could do so cheaply, and if there was a perceived risk -- consider, for example, the laboratory facilities at many universities. 

Hat tip to Lay Lines for the story.

This entry was published Wed Dec 28 03:59:38 CST 2005 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2005-12-28 03:59:38.0. [Tweet]

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