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In a series of recent cases, police officers have mounted sophisticated surveillance cameras on telephone poles and pointed them at the homes of people suspected of a crime. These cameras often operate for months or even years without judicial oversight, collecting vast quantities of video footage on suspects and their activities near the home. Pole camera surveillance raises important Fourth Amendment questions that have divided courts and puzzled scholars.

These questions are complicated because Fourth Amendment law is complicated. This is especially the case today as Fourth Amendment law is in a transitional phase, caught between older and newer paradigms for determining the scope of the Amendment’s power. This Symposium Essay succinctly lays out the standards that govern modern Fourth Amendment search questions. It applies those standards to the pole camera issue—perhaps the most urgent and consequential issue in current Fourth Amendment surveillance law. The Essay surveys the substantial body of caselaw addressing this question. It offers its own detailed analysis and grapples with variations in fact patterns that have confounded prior attempts to address the issue. Finally, it uses this analysis to draw vital lessons for Fourth Amendment law more broadly.