Saturday, August 16, 2008

I Always Feel Like...

Somebody's watching me...

Privacy anyone?
Last week some time, the WaPo ran a story that really bothered me. More surprising, still, is the fact that since then, I've heard nothing else about it.

Story: How Fairfax County police (northern Virginia suburbs of DC) have recently nailed a bad guy who had been assaulting women by using information on his movements gleaned from a GPS unit covertly placed on his vehicle. The police had suspected the alleged perpetrator based on his criminal record and the modus operandi. What the police didn't have, dear readers, was either probable cause OR.... a warrant. Really? Really. I had to think about that for a while. Let's see: we've got a known bad guy, women getting hurt, information about that bad guy's movements that put him under suspicion.

The article goes on to say that very many police departments are using GPS tracking devices---and nearly universally so without court orders to say nothing of warrants. In fact, it seems pretty likely that all of the jurisdictions here in the National Capitol Region are doing so though very few offered a response when asked. Rationale? Planting GPS devices, covertly, generates the same information as a human surveillance detail would.

Is that so? I think not. Because with human surveillance, you put a human in the car. Their actual behavior is observed--for instance---when alleged assailant parks car at mall, was that person the driver? Did that person get out of his car? Did he grab someone by the hair and drag them off into the bushes? Or rather did he drop the car off at Sears to have the battery replaced?

I hear some folks shaking their heads saying---"well, we can straighten those questions out with investigation of alibis or on interview"...again, I say no. Seems law enforcement has become a matter of accuse first and generate the suspicion later. I think this is a very, very big problem; quite Big Brother.

This potentially puts all of us under the threat of random observation, moreover, the threat of baseless consideration of criminal activity based upon the movements of our vehicles. I've been considering these implications: Presently, our "justice system" places convicted criminals on house arrest using GPS equipment. Convicted criminals. Lo-jacks are affixed to their bodies and alerts are generated to law enforcement when that person exceeds their permitted boundaries. We don't covertly plant electronic tracking devices on their vehicles because that doesn't provide the information that would be required to monitor their compliance with confinement. In fact, we require conviction to justify this invasion of privacy, this loss of civil rights--this invasion of privacy which seems to me to be less intrusive by nature than tracking the movement of an average citizen with no cause. It seems to me the case may be easily made that with warrant-less use of GPS units (which the article points out can be placed in a concealed manner in less than 3 minutes) relegates the average citizen to greater suspicion than criminals, presuming as it does that the movements of person's registered vehicle implicate a person's behavior.

What do you think? Seems to me like its time for some objection....

For your ears ...
I love Mark Knopfler's work; I loved The Dire Straits long before they became a household name with "The MTV Song" (and video, actually) in the mid-80's. It's the kind of guitar work that makes my jaw drop. Over the years he has demonstrated such amazing breadth of expertise that I remain a huge fan. He has gone on from the Straits to do a lot of soundtrack work as well as collaborations with some of Americana's greatest talents: Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harrison... mind you, these are not my usual cup of tea but what he brings to those collaborations...just sublime. I find the music so rich in Celtic and American Bluegrass reference it just really provides so much to appreciate. I think its amazing that one of the guitar players I admired most before I was twenty is still making new music that engages me, isn't simple retread...he's clearly still exploring a medium he loves.

For the last year or so, this track has been one I've sought out over and over, have hit the "back" button on nearly every time it plays.

Are We in Trouble Now? -- Mark Knopfler (Golden Heart, 1996)

I love this verse:

it wasn't just the music
wasn't just the wine
some other kind of magic
sending shivers up my spine
and i was falling
and i fell for you
and how....
Another thing I know about songs I love is that they're usually about the challenges of being, staying, in love. Fairly dark, as a rule. This one is no exception. Grown up love isn't for sissies.


Special K said...

Blech. It seems like they'd (the police) be in danger of the whole thing getting thrown out. But, of course, under the Bush Admin, warrants are so passé. On a similar note, Chicago (my fair city) is one of the most surveillance-ing cities in the world - we're supposedly photographed like hundreds of times each day just walking around. I think the problem is, a lot of people don't really care because they figure they don't have anything to loose. Like, most people aren't walking around committing crimes so they don't care if they're documented not committing crimes. But they should be!

KHM said...

absolutely---there don't appear to be any regulations regarding how/why those photos can be used, either which is more troubling still.

I didn't realize that Chicago was that entrenched... parts of Baltimore have been since the mid-1990's. Interestingly (at least to me) is that there's relatively little video surveillance in areas that are exclusively poor and black (and where there is much crime) but plenty of it near Johns Hopkins medical campus where there tends to be a lot of non-resident foot traffic... suggests an interesting kind of concern to me.

Drew said...

Actually Kathy, apparently Chi-town is one of the worst.

Don said...

Please don't read anything into this; what I find interesting in the linked news story is that the four bottom cities, as far as personal freedoms, are what I would consider liberal towns. I would have thought they would have been up with Vegas and Miami.