Police Developing Meth Gun — And Raising Serious Privacy and Policy Questions

The Missouri Highway Patrol is testing a new scanning device that can detect the presence of meth at the press of a button. The scanner models will cost between $2,000-$5,500, but the price is expected to drop as more are produced and the technology is proven reliable. It presents an intriguing development on a constitutional level. Reasonable suspicion is needed for a breath test, which is done with consent of the driver. Moreover, the Supreme Court has found the scanning of the outside of homes for heat signatures (common to growing pot indoors) to be unconstitutional. Once again, technology appears in a race with civil liberties. As such devices become more common, a hole in our current jurisprudence will expand. Under the current Katz test, privacy protection from warrantless searches depends on the reasonable expectations of citizens. As those expectations fall, warrantless searches can rise — becoming a downward spiral. No doubt such devices would be popular items with businesses as well.

The concern is not meth users but the creation of a fishbowl society where the government constantly scans and surveils its citizens. It presents a world not contemplated when the fourth amendment was written and a world quite different in terms of the feeling of freedom in public. Notably, as surveillance cameras increase and scanning devices proliferate, there is little discussion of the shrinking zone of personal privacy. For the story on the meth gun, click here