In an attempt to get residents to throw away less garbage, the City of Seattle has given each household several different trash bins to put out to the curb – one for yard and food waste, one for recycling, and even smaller cans for stuff that is really trash.

However, what began as a well-intentioned and environmentally conscious program, was given some serious teeth earlier this year, when Seattle began penalizing residents for poor garbage sorting. If on one inspection, more than 10 percent of a garbage can’s contents should have been properly in another kind of bin, the trash collector can pin a bright red tag on the offender’s can. Financial penalties have been authorized but not yet implemented.

This week, a group of Seattle residents said that the inspections violated their privacy under the State and Federal Constitutions. In a lawsuit filed Thursday, they argued that what they toss away is private, and the government has no right to inspect it.

What constitutes improper snooping in the trash is a question that courts have ruled on in the past. In 1988, the USSC said that the decision to throw something away effectively puts the object into the public domain, and that the police do not need a warrant to search through a suspect’s trash. However, the Seattle residents claim that while that may be the federal rule, the Washington State Constitution gives them more protection. Similarly, the New York State Constitution gives its citizens greater protections that under the Federal one. The lawsuit says that” a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy that the contents of his or her garbage cans will remain private.” This is another small, but important case dealing with the gradual erosion of the privacy of the ordinary citizen.

Source: New York Times

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