In 2018, Hunter Hollingsworth was driving an ATV on his family’s private property when he noticed something odd. It was a wireless camera strapped to a tree about 4 feet off the ground. Then he noticed another about 10 feet off the ground. He knew the cameras didn’t belong to the family. Hollingsworth removed the cameras, and that’s when the trouble started.
A few months later, armed federal agents surrounded his home and banged on his door, threatening to break it down if he did not let them in. They swarmed into his home, looking for their cameras, which they’d placed on his private property without his knowledge and without his consent.
And it’s all perfectly legal.
According to case law settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in a doctrine known as “Open Fields,” Americans have an expectation of privacy in their homes and the immediate surrounding areas. But we do not have an expectation of privacy in open land, such as fields where we grow crops, and no public good is served by such a right. Therefore, government agents can legally go onto your land without your knowledge and install cameras, even if you’ve erected “No Trespassing” signs.
Hollingsworth and one other private citizen are taking the federal government to court in state court, claiming such actions violate the Tennessee Constitution, a move that has worked in a few other states. But most people aren’t aware of the doctrine and have no idea that the federal government can, and does, enter people’s private property without permission or knowledge, and puts up surveillance equipment.