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August 20, 2005

Garbage, privacy, and the law

The Supreme Court of Montana recently ruled that citizens have no expectation of privacy with regard to the contents of their trash.

Read Justice James C. Nelson's remarkable concurring opinion. [via CNET]

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» Erosion of Rights from The MojoWire
Garbage, privacy, and the law The Supreme Court of Montana recently ruled that citizens have no expectation of privacy with regard to the contents of their trash. Read Justice James C. Nelson's remarkable concurring opinion. [via CNET] [Read More]

» Garbage Is Not Private from Political Parrhesia
Via Majikthise, we read a stunning concurring opinion in a Montana Supreme Court decision giving police the right to rummage through garbage without a warrant or court approval. Justice James C. Nelson concurred with the decision, but at least he... [Read More]

» Orwell predicted this from Linkmeister
Your wretched refuse is not protected by law, at least in Montana.The Supreme Court of Montana ruled last month that police could conduct a warrantless "trash dive" into the trash cans in the alley behind the home of a man... [Read More]

Comments

It's not surprising to me that garbage is fair game. However, I don't think it's right. Garbage isn't just thrown to the winds, it's handed over to the custody of trash disposal professionals. These are people who are under contract to take this stuff to the dump and dispose of it properly. That's why we have garbage day and local laws about how you wrap stuff up if you expect it to be treated as trash. Hence the more stringent privacy expectations for trash disposed of by private services, I imagine.

Litter, illegally dumped refuse, and stuff left out on non-garbage days should be fair game for reporters, cops, and anyone else who wants to rifle through it. Likewise, if a cop or a reporter wants to go to the dump and sift through the communal garbage in the hopes of finding something that can be linked to a particular person, I can't object too strenuously. However, I do object to the fact that they can go into your trash when it's parked outside your home without a warrant and use the conjunction of the stuff being in the trash and it being your trash to convict you of a crime.

If precedent says there's no expectation of privacy, then we've got to pass legislation creating an expectation of privacy for trash.

Please comment on sensitive papers in trash taken and published. Then used as the basis for a legal action against the author???

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