Cops Must Say Good-bye to Tabloid TV Buddies

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You've probably seen shows like Fox's "COPS" -- you know, a bunch of burly law-enforcement types burst in a house in some low-rent neighborhood followed by a film crew. Well, don't expect to see any more such programs. In two unanimous rulings Monday relating to such coverage by the Washington Post and the Cable News Network, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches "for police to bring members of the media or other third parties into a home during the execution" of a search or arrest warrant, if allowing such outsiders to tag along into the home is "not in aid of the execution" of the warrant. Though aimed at police for overstepping their authority, the ruling scores a direct hit on picture-hungry journalists. The requests of news organizations for "media ride-alongs" to boost the ratings of their shows with action-packed footage are unlikely to be granted by police now that their departments can be sued.

"The court decided that publishing or broadcasting pictures of people in their own homes without their consent is a serious invasion of privacy," says TIME Washington correspondent Viveca Novak. The problem is compounded by the fact that "some of the people caught on film may not even be accused of a crime," she adds. A subsequent case is likely to decide whether the media itself can be sued for such activity, though issues posed by the First Amendment right of free speech could result in a different outcome for journalists.