Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

Gun Detector Technology and the Special Needs Exception

Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

Gun Detector Technology and the Special Needs Exception

Article excerpt


Picture a world where antagonism between police and the community is greatly diminished or nonexistent; police officers face fewer safety risks; the crime rate is lower; and traditionally high-crime communities receive more effective protection by the police. This world may be ready to dawn.

In 1994, James Q. Wilson suggested that these ideals could be accomplished by using a device, similar to an airport metal detector, to detect all illegal handguns on the street.(1) Wilson's article sparked debate about the applications and limitations of gun detector technology.(2) Later, in 1995, the Department of Justice issued three grants totaling more than $2.15 million for the development of new, high-technology gun detectors.(3) These gun detectors will soon be ready for the arsenals of law enforcement agencies.(4) Inevitably, the courts will have to decide how this new technology fits into the context of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

Scholars have debated how the use of gun detector technology may implicate the Fourth Amendment.(5) One scholar conceptualized a hypothetical "smart" gun detector that, when used, would fall short of triggering the Fourth Amendment.(6) Other scholars have examined the technology through the lens of traditional Fourth Amendment analysis.(7) However, these scholars have yet to undertake a meaningful discussion about employing the special needs exception(8) to harmonize the use of this technology with the Fourth Amendment.

One scholar has suggested that Millivision will have disturbing implications on special needs litigation.(9) This Note develops that position by examining the feasibility of applying the special needs exception to Millivision. With Millivision, there are circumstances in which the search can be considered minimally intrusive. Further, supporting arguments maintain that the government's special needs of improving or enhancing officer safety, improving police relations with the community at large and protecting the community from future harm justify this exception.(10)

Parents, teachers, and community leaders have all played vital roles in reducing gun related violence, yet it remains a nationwide problem.(11) If a special needs exception is created for Millivision we may all enjoy a reprieve from gun violence. This possibility has caused some analysts and scholars to revel in the fact that Millivision may represent a turning point in the war against gun violence.(12) However, if courts apply the special needs exception to Millivision, any gain in safety will result in a loss of personal privacy.(13)

Part II of this Note explains the Millivision gun detector and the technology it uses. Part III suggests a hypothetical use of Millivision. Part IV examines whether the Fourth Amendment is implicated by the hypothetical outlined in Part III. Special needs case law is examined in Part V. Part VI of this Note describes some special needs that may one day justify the use depicted in Part III. Finally, Part VII applies a balancing test to determine whether Part III's hypothetical use of Millivision is reasonable.


Through the March 1995 grant, the Department of Justice funded three companies researching different weapon detection technologies.(14) The most revolutionary technology is being developed by The Millivision Corporation(15) and is trademarked as "Millivision."(16)

Millivision is a passive-imaging technology that registers the natural energy radiating from all objects.(17) Unlike an x-ray machine, it does not bombard the human body with any additional radiation.(18) Instead, it reads the radiation that all "black bodies," including human beings,(19) emit naturally.(20) However, the human body discharges radiation at the millimeter frequency in extraordinarily high levels when compared to most other objects.(21) Millivision detectors are designed to receive radiation at this frequency and not at different frequencies. …

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