Structural Sensor Surveillance

Author:Andrew Guthrie Ferguson
Position:Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law
Pages:47-112
47
Structural Sensor Surveillance
Andrew Guthrie Ferguson*
ABSTRACT: City infrastructure is getting smarter. Embedded smart sensors
in roads, lampposts, and electrical grids offer the government a way to
regulate municipal resources and the police a new power to monitor citizens.
This structural sensor surveillance, however, raises a difficult constitutional
question: Does the creation of continuously-recording, aggregated, long-term
data collection systems violate the Fourth Amendment? After all, recent
Supreme Court cases suggest that technologies that allow police to monitor
location, reveal personal patterns, and track personal details for long periods
of time are Fourth Amendment searches which require a probable cause
warrant.
This Article uses the innovation of smart city structural design as a way to
rethink current Fourth Amendment theory. This Article examines the Fourth
Amendment search questions that may render structural surveillance
unconstitutional, and then offers a legal and practical design solution. The
Article argues that Fourth Amendment principles must be built into the
blueprints of urban design. At a micro-level, privacy rules must be embedded
alongside data collection rules. At a macro-level, a comprehensive legal
framework must be integrated with digital design choices. Only by thinking
about municipal code and computer code simultaneously can smart cities
avoid emerging Fourth Amendment challenges.
I.INTRODUCTION ............................................................................... 49
II.STRUCTURAL SENSOR SURVEILLANCE ............................................. 52
A.SMART SENSOR DESIGN .............................................................. 54
1.Built Environment ........................................................... 55
2.Utilities ............................................................................. 58
3.Public Safety .................................................................... 60
*
Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law. Thank you to Steve
Bellovin, Marc Blitz, Danielle Citron, Andrew Crespo, David Gray, Stephen Henderson, Orin
Kerr, Mary Leary, Cynthia Lee, Ron Lee, Rebecca Lipman, Wayne Logan, Richard Re, Andrew
Selbst, Katherine Strandburg, Matt Tokson, Kate Weisburd, Jordan Woods, and the University of
Maryland School of Law Legal Theory Workshop participants, the AALS/ABA Criminal Justice
Section workshop, and friends at the Privacy Law Scholars Conference for reading an earlier
version of this Article.
48 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 106:47
4.City-Wide Application Programming Interface ............ 64
B.SMART SENSOR PRIVACY ............................................................ 67
III.THE FOURTH AMENDMENT & SMART SENSORS IN PUBLIC .............. 70
A.A DIGITAL REASONABLE EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY TEST
IN PUBLIC ................................................................................. 70
1.Reasonable Expectation of Privacy Principles .............. 72
i.Principle #1: Digital is Different .................................. 75
ii.Principle #2: The Court Disfavors Arbitrary and
“Too Permeating” Surveillance ..................................... 76
iii.Principle #3: Aggregating and Permanent
Tracking Technologies Raise Fourth Amendment
Concerns ..................................................................... 77
2.Fourth Amendment Principles for Structural
Surveillance...................................................................... 79
B.THE FOURTH AMENDMENT APPLIED TO SMART SENSORS ............ 79
1.Integrated Data Collection Systems: API ....................... 80
2.Visual Surveillance & Object Recognition .................... 82
3.Public Utilities ................................................................. 84
4.Smart Streetlights ............................................................ 86
C.RESPONSES TO THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY
PUZZLE ..................................................................................... 87
1.Public Exposure .............................................................. 87
2.Consent–Assumption of Risk .......................................... 88
3.Type of Data .................................................................... 90
4.Acquisition of Data .......................................................... 90
D.CONCLUSION: REASONABLY SMART EXPECTATIONS OF
PRIVACY IN PUBLIC .................................................................... 91
IV.THE FOURTH AMENDMENT & SMART SENSORS AS TRESPASS
SEARCHES ........................................................................................ 91
V.FOURTH AMENDMENT IN THE DIGITAL CITY: EXCEPTIONS? ........... 95
A.SPECIAL NEEDS EXCEPTION ........................................................ 95
B.REASONABLENESS ...................................................................... 97
VI. A DIGITAL PRIVACY-FOCUSED POSITIVE LAW ................................ 100
A.THE POSITIVE LAW MODEL ...................................................... 102
B.DIGITAL PROPERTY: FOURTH AMENDMENT PROTECTIONS
THROUGH PROPERTY RIGHTS .................................................. 104
C.POSITIVE LAW: FOURTH AMENDMENT PROTECTIONS
THROUGH LAW ....................................................................... 106
D.DIGITAL PRIVACY RIGHTS: FOURTH AMENDMENT
EXPECTATIONS THROUGH COMPUTER CODE ............................. 108
2020] STRUCTURAL SENSOR SURVEILLANCE 49
E.DESIGNING THE “LEGAL LAYER .............................................. 111
VII. CONCLUSION ................................................................................ 112
I. INTRODUCTION
Sensors are now embedded in the infrastructure of American cities.
Smart roads, smart streetlights, smart homes, and smart electrical grids offer
entirely new means of monitoring citizens living in “smart cities.”1 This
municipal data collection involves state actors surveilling citizens, literally
tagging them, touching them, and tracking them—all the while aggregating
personal data for government purposes over long periods of time.
Unfortunately, and a bit awkwardly, these digital contacts collide with
Fourth Amendment “search”2 principles because the modern Fourth
Amendment turns on issues such as tracking, touch, aggregated personal data
collection, and “too permeating police surveillance.”3 Physical intrusion,4
expectations of privacy,5 and a fear of arbitrary surveillance6 rest at the core
of Fourth Amendment search cases.
This Article asks the question of what happens when the architecture of
a digital future is built on an analog Fourth Amendment framework. Are
smart city sensors unconstitutional because they inadvertently allow for
aggregated government collection of personal data without a probable-cause
search warrant? Will smart cities become Fourth Amendment-free zones with
ubiquitous tracking and no expectations of privacy? Or can design principles
1. See, e.g., BEN GREEN, THE SMART ENOUGH CITY: PUTTING TECHNOLOGY IN ITS PLACE TO
RECLAIM OUR URBAN FUTURE 1–14 (2019).
2. The Fourth Amendment provides that
[t]he 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.
U.S. CONST. amend. IV.
3. Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206, 2214 (2018) (quoting United States v. Di
Re, 332 U.S. 581, 595 (1948)); see id. at 2211–20.
4. United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400, 404–05 (2012) (finding that “[t]he
Government[’s] physically occup[ying] private property for the purpose of obtaining
information” was a search for Fourth Amendment purposes).
5. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 361 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring) (“My
understanding of the rule that has emerged from prior decisions is that there is a twofold
requirement, first that a person have exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy and,
second, that the expectation be one that society is prepared to recognize as ‘reasonable.’”).
6. See United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 554 (1976) (articulating that the
purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to protect against “arbitrary and opp ressive interference by
enforcement officials with the privacy and personal security of individuals”).

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