The Fourth Amendment and Boston’s City-Wide Infrared Imaging Project to Show Heat Loss of Homes

The CBS affiliate in Boston reports, with video available through the link:

A thermal imaging project in the city of Boston has been put on hold because of privacy concerns.

Boston officials had hoped to have aerial and street-level photos taken across about four square miles of the city this winter using infrared cameras that would show heat loss in the city homes.

Officials planned on sharing the photos and analysis with homeowners, and were hoping the findings would increase enrollment in efficiency programs and also create business opportunities.

But, the project hit a snag when the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts raised concerns that the infrared cameras would reveal information about what’s going on inside the homes. Sagewell’s cameras can take up to 20,000 images of homes per day.

Despite the concern, towns outside of Boston have not had any problems with the program. Utilities and environmental groups from Springfield and Hamilton are in the process of initiating the same project in their communities

Off the top of my head, the lawfulness of the program under the Fourth Amendment is actually rather tricky. It combines the issues raised by this post on the present application of Kyllo with complex questions of how the “special needs” doctrine applies. Interesting stuff. Hat tip: FourthAmendment.com.