Saturday, January 31, 2015

MIT Professor invents way to illegally search thousands of homes for his business start-up.

What in the world are these people thinking?  The legality of their business model, which involves taking unsolicited drive-by heat scans of private residences is highly questionable. The US Supreme Court determined years ago that police departments taking infrared heat scans without a warrant constituted an illegal search so how could it be legal for a private company to do the same thing?  Danger-Danger all you day traders looking to catch a rising start-up at a bargain price. leave this one alone.
In 2007, Google unleashed a fleet of cars with roof-mounted cameras to provide street-level images of roads around the world. Now MIT spinout Essess is bringing similar “drive-by” innovations to energy efficiency in homes and businesses.
The startup deploys cars with thermal-imaging rooftop rigs that create heat maps of thousands of homes and buildings per hour, detecting fixable leaks in “building envelopes” — windows, doors, walls, and foundations — to help owners curb energy loss.
A heat map of a home captured by one of Essess' thermal-imaging cars
courtesy of Essess
It certainly is an interesting idea, infusing Google street-view maps with infrared scanning technology. This green innovation will clearly show the heat escaping through inadequate insulation in the walls or the attic and through leaking windows. The intent is to help motivate people to make the necessary home improvements that will lower their utility bills and reduce their carbon footprint.  What's not to love?

Well, it turns out that in 2001 in "Kyllo vs United States"  the Supreme Court ruled that because thermal images provided details that would previously been unknowable without physical intrusion they were a violation of 4th Amendment rights against illegal search.

 ABC News: Supreme Court Rules on Police Using Infrared
Federal agents could not see inside Danny Lee Kyllo's home. Nor did they have a search warrant to enter the premises.
But they did have an infrared camera that used thermal imaging technology, enabling them to identify suspected heat lamps growing 100 marijuana plants.
They used the images to get a warrant, leading to Kyllo's arrest and conviction.
The technology, originally designed for the military, displays objects by distinguishing differences in temperature of surrounding objects, so that a person, warmer than the surrounding air, appears a different color than the air.
The Supreme Court today, in Kyllo vs. U.S., ruled that authorities scanning a home with an infrared camera without a warrant constituted an unreasonable search barred by the Fourth Amendment.
It did so, the court said, because the device is not in general use by the public, so Kyllo had an expectation of privacy, and because the imaging provided by the camera revealed details about Kyllo's home "that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion."
I predict that the practice of taking unsolicited thermal images of all the homes in a neighborhood, while perhaps a noble venture, will be determined to be an invasion of privacy, and the Essess thermal imaging cars will have to be parked until the owners find a different way to employ their cool new technology.

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