Reasonable suspicion refers to the legal standard of proof that requires an objectively reasonable basis for suspecting criminal activity. A law enforcement officer must meet the reasonable suspicion standard to legally detain an individual or monitor their activity and behavior (Terry v. Ohio, 1968). In recent years, the United States Government has emphasized collecting criminal intelligence information through various surveillance methods. This approach raises concerns about policies and standards that may allow the invasion of one’s privacy during surveillance. Under federal law, the government is only permitted to collect criminal intelligence information on someone if there is, “reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime” (Terry v. Ohio, para.1).
The concept of reasonable suspicion can be frustrating to individuals because it is difficult to define, as it is often dependent on context and can be subjectively interpreted. This can be concerning to individuals because it creates the idea that the government can legally monitor them and invade their privacy due to relatively lax standards. In many situations, however, reasonable suspicion no longer meets the standard required to perform electronic surveillance on individuals suspected of committing a crime, due to legislation passed in recent years (Strasser, 2017). Most forms of electronic surveillance such as wiretapping or the use of a GPS tracker, now require a court-ordered warrant as they are considered to be a “search” under the Fourth Amendment (United States v. Jones, 2012).
There are still many circumstances however, in which reasonable suspicion is a sufficient standard for conducting surveillance. For example, if a police officer, responding to a call, noticed a car driving quickly away as he approached the crime scene, the officer could find that suspicious. Although the officer did not technically see the driver of the car commit a crime, the fact that the driver was fleeing the scene would constitute reasonable suspicion. Since the officer has now fulfilled the requirements of reasonable suspicion, he would be legally permitted to follow and further investigate the driver.
Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).
Strasser, R. (2017, July 16). Electronic Surveillance. Retrieved October 24, 2018, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/electronic_surveillance
United States v. Jones (2012), 565 US 400