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How intrusive can the cops really get?

Monday, 5 November 2012 - 9:23am IST

Over the decades, there’s been increasing State intrusion in the life and deeds of the people on the questionable ground of public policy, suspicion or national or public interest.

Way back in 1604, House of Lords Judge Sir Edward Coke ruled that “the house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence as for his repose.” There was serious concern for the privacy of a living a being as the contested and universally acceptable verdict says ``The midnight knock by the police bully breaking into the peace of the citizen’s home is outrageous in law’. Agreeing with him, Justice Douglas explained that the Free State offers what a police state denies - the privacy of the home, the dignity and peace of mind of the individual.

"That precious right to be left alone is violated once the police enter our conversations,’’ the two thinking judges said as they unwittingly laid the foundation of the hope for a nation "where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…”

It’s a pleasant surprise that Lord Coke’s concern was echoed recently by Indian Supreme Court judges AK Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar as they examined the significance of the Right to Information Act.

The timing of the native top court’s observation is of great value as a large section of the people who are anxiously at work to protect the basic right for speech, expression and privacy are engaged in coining an acceptable definition of the term 'privacy’.

Over the decades, there’s been increasing State intrusion in the life and deeds of the people on the questionable ground of public policy, suspicion or national or public interest.

It’s one thing to say that privacy is an integral part of the right to live with dignity and another to respect it. The irony is that subjective satisfaction rules the roost in determining whether intrusion was legal or an excessive which the State must be penalised.

Be that as it may, the great respect for privacy in the US is evident from ongoing proceedings in American Supreme Court which has been called upon to adjudicate on the constitutionality of the right of investigating agencies to use dog for sniffing suspicious objects which could harm the people, their health, and endanger national economy.

"Can you trust what a dog’s nose knows? Police do, but the Supreme Court considered (Wednesday) curbing the use of drug-sniffing dogs in investigations following complaints of illegal searches and insufficient proof of the dogs’ reliability, a US newspaper has reported.

Judges may hand down a ruling soon on the core issue: whether police can be allowed to use narcotic-detecting dogs to sniff around the outside of homes without a warrant.

Obama’s legal department has cautioned the top court saying it better not let the questioning of dog skills go too far, because dogs also are used to detect bombs and protect officials and in search-and-rescue operations.

State’s attorney said that the courts not constitutionalise dog-training methodologies or hold mini-trials of expert witnesses on what makes for a successful dog-training program. There’s growing debate on the acceptance of the non- judicial right to intrude in around homes.

It has been argued that the history of the Fourth Amendment really is based on the fact that the home is different. Indeed, in 2001 the US Supreme Court, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that police could not use heat-detection devices outside a home to detect marijuana grow lights inside. Not only does the device violate the home dweller’s expectation of privacy, said Scalia, but the technology could detect many other innocent details of the home owner’s life, like “the hour at which the lady of the house takes her bath.”

Then sniffing to drugs, bombs and  lethal chemicals is different than the privacy of a bathing woman, who like anyone else undoubtedly, deserves utmost respect for privacy.

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