Waste & Recycling


Minnesota court rules against privacy protection of trash from police

I would suggest that until your trash bags have commingled with your neighbours' trash bags, your right to privacy has yet to expire

029You probably wouldn’t find much of interest in my curbside garbage bags. But if you had it out for me, who knows what kind of case you could make, if you really tried, that is.

Last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that one should have no expectation of privacy when putting trash out to the curb.

Generally speaking, I tend to agree. Justice Wilhelmina Wright wrote that, “It is not reasonable to expect the contents of garbage bags placed on the side of a public street for collection to remain private.”

Fair enough. But isn’t it also reasonable to assume that the bag won’t be ripped open to substantiate potential criminal behaviour?

I would suggest that until your trash bags have commingled with your neighbours’ trash bags, your right to privacy has yet to expire.

I don’t support criminality, just law enforcement that’s supported by fair reasoning.

There better be some potent circumstantial evidence to warrant rooting through my trash. Yet typically, and even in Canada, police don’t need a warrant to dig through your curbside waste. In fact, that dig could actually snag them a proper warrant to search your entire home.

That’s exactly what happened in Minnesota. A daughter told a trusted public official that she saw her mom with a drug pipe. Police followed up the allegation by searching the resident’s trash, where they found several plastic bags containing white residue, later tested positive as methamphetamine. The evidence landed a search warrant for the home, where police found meth.

Another judge, Justice David Lillehaug, provided a dissenting opinion to the right to search waste.
He stated:

A misplaced bank statement, an improperly discarded hard drive, or poor judgment when interacting with others via social media leaves an individual vulnerable to consequences ranging from embarrassment to identity theft and fraud. We do not minimize that certain negative consequences have arisen from technological developments, but we also consider the practical reality when determining whether changed circumstances justify a change in the law. Minnesotans are well aware of potential threats to their privacy and security and have prudently altered their conduct in response.

Here is a link to a similar garbage search case that reached the Canadian Supreme Court in 2009.

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