Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

Is Your Rubbish Private or Open to the Public?

From the web site: “Portland [Oregon]’s top officials say it’s OK for police to go through your garbage as it becomes ‘public property’ when you throw it out. Local rag decides to go through garbage of Portland’s top officials to see what they throw out. Hilarity ensues.”

That’s right. Portland, Oregon police, the mayor, and the district attorney all agreed that anyone who leaves trash on the curb waiting for the garbage truck to pick it up has given up all expectations of privacy for the contents of that trash. The claim is that anyone, including police, can legally examine someone else’s abandoned trash without permission and without a search warrant.

So a couple of local newspaper reporters, who obviously disagree, decided to turn the tables: they went through the trash left curbside by the mayor, the chief of police, and the local district attorney, all of whom have publicly stated that trash left curbside is not private.

The reporters then kept some trash items from the police chief’s home and later showed them to the chief. Items they recovered include: a receipt with his credit-card number, a summary of his wife’s investments, an email prepping the mayor about his job application to be police chief of Los Angeles, a well-chewed cigar stub, and a handwritten note scribbled in pencil on a napkin, so personal it made the reporters cringe. They also drew his attention to a newsletter from the conservative political advocacy group.

Hours later, the chief issued a press release complaining that the reporters had gone through “my personal garbage at my home.”

Then the reporters attempted to do the same for the mayor. However, the mayor’s trash habits were better: her trash was not left on the curb. It seems incredulous that her office later issued a statement: “I consider [the newspaper’s] actions in this matter to be potentially illegal and absolutely unscrupulous and reprehensible,” it read. “I will consider all my legal options in response to their actions.”

This came from a senior official who earlier had stated that going through one’s trash is legal??? “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

The district attorney had a more humorous reaction. When he was informed that his trash also had been inspected, he asked, “Do I have to pay for this week’s garbage collection?”

Who says attorneys don’t have a sense of humor?

You can read more in the article in the Willamette Week at

Aren’t citizens protected from unreasonable search and seizure by the Fourth Amendment?

Categories: Offline Privacy & Security

1 reply

  1. this is a settled principle of law for many years by the US SCt. It is best to shred anything with your name on it because when the police do a “trash pull” they want your name to be linked to whatever drug residue they hope to find.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.