The criteria for defining an illegal search has never been whether you’re aware of the search having been performed. If, for instance, investigators sneak into your house, go through your things – but leave everything so it appears nothing was touched, so you never suspect they were there – it’s still illegal, if it was done without a warrant.
Even to this very day – at least, kinda sorta.
So how about these license plate scanners that cops are using to – yes – search us without our knowledge, much less a warrant?
Maybe you haven’t heard about the scanners – more correctly, these Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs). They are a device that integrates a Panopticon-style camera system with a computer database.
The ALPR – usually there are several, mounted on all four corners of a cop car – scans the plates of all the cars that pass by the cop (if he’s parked) or the cars the cop passes (if he’s moving). The numbers scanned are then automatically filtered through various databases (we’re not allowed to know exactly what data these databases contain) and if there is a “hit” – such as for a stolen car or a car tied to a crime – the cop is aroused from his sugary slumbers to go after the evildoer.
But the point is, we’ve all just been examined, identified and catalogued; that is, searched.