When I wrote Fetal Abduction which is the true story of a mentally ill woman who murdered a pregnant woman to take her fetus and try to pass it on as her own I wrote the book because I was concerned about how the justice system seemed to fail a poor, Spanish speaking and mentally ill person who I felt needed an insanity defense. I was also appalled at how the Judge in the case ruled on issues of public safety. He found that evidence collected while Annette Morales Rodrigues was in Milwaukee County Police custody—evidence collected via two invasive vaginal exams—one that the police and the hospital both documented as her having adamantly refused—was allowable as it was in the interest of public safety. The Judge justified the police decision not to waste their time to read Mrs. Morales Rodriguez her rights and allow her to exercise them because they thought a life may have been saved—although in fact the woman in question was already dead.
Now as we witness the controversy over the use of drones and the public discussion about their use overseas—as well as their future overhead—right here in the U.S.—we must think hard about what other threats we may ultimately face here of accepting too much emphasis on threats to public safety. We must realize that we will always live with some level of threat—from terrorism and from other types of crimes such as the murder referenced above—and we must come to an acceptable means of balancing those concerns to that of our Fourth Amendment Rights protecting us against undue search and invasion of privacy.
Although vaginally searching a woman while under police custody in an examination she is clearly refusing seems to me to be about the worst case scenario I can imagine—there are other government sponsored invasions to privacy also to consider.
And I worry that if a judge in Wisconsin can rule that a woman’s vagina can be invasively searched for the interest of public safety while she’s being held without being informed she’s under arrest, without her being able to contact her attorney, and without her rights even having been read to her—and this all done twice against her consent while being held by a police department who have incidentally been facing other scandals now being investigated by the U.S. federal government—then what’s to say drones won’t also be used for highly invasive purposes? Raping us in a sense of our dignity and privacy without us ever having the right to refuse?
In the case of Annette Morales Rodriguez the judge was ruling in reference to potentially saving one woman’s life at the expense of violating the rights of another. What’s to be said if the government argues that multiple lives might be saved by invasively searching via drones from overhead of all of our back yards, our driveways, our patios, balconies, rooftops, our meeting places, and homes—possibly even our bodies—to learn who we are seeing, who visits us, and what we are doing in the privacy of our own homes? And this carried out via an increasing array of technology that will likely include acute visual, auditory and infrared sensing and much more.
It’s not a fantasy scenario. Indeed in 1989 the Supreme Court ruled in Florida v. Riley that a police helicopter “search” conducted without a warrant over Riley’s back yard in which a helicopter which was flown and hovered four hundred feet overhead allowing the police to see what they suspected—that the man was growing marijuana in a backyard greenhouse—was allowable. While Riley argued that for the police to hover over his backyard in a helicopter—enabling them to view his private business and allowing them to see inside his fence—violated his expectation of privacy, the court ruled that it did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights.
However in 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in Kyllo vs. U.S.—a case again where the police learned that the homeowner was growing marijuana, in this case via heat lamps—that authorities scanning a home with an infrared camera without a search warrant was an invasion of privacy and constituted an unreasonable search barred by the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court stated that a citizen has a “subjective expectation of privacy” in his own home and that a warrant is necessary to use remote sensing devices.
However, remember that this was before the “war on terror” at a time when the U.S. government was still adamantly protesting Israel’s practice of “targeted assassinations” calling them unacceptable extrajudicial killings. And keep in mind we are talking about a U.S. government who in regard to drones has granted to itself the right to strike anywhere, at anytime and in countries that are not at war with the United States and to do so endlessly—potentially setting up an international precedent that may create a significant and terrifying backlash. There will be a future of drones overhead here in the U.S. and they will be invasively searching our lives—and perhaps even our bodies—unless we all get seriously concerned and speak up against it—before it’s too late.
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is the author of Fetal Abduction: The True Story of Multiple Personalities and Murder and Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers & “Martyrs”