They can run me through a full-body scanner, drive an X-ray van past my house, stick a GPS locator on my car and photograph my license plates as I drive to work. They tell me I have nothing to worry about if I’ve done nothing wrong.
I’m not a terrorist, drug runner, bobcat poacher or car thief. But with ever-increasing homeland security and police technologies, we all stand greater chances every day of being dragged through the nets being cast to haul in the bad guys.
Catch the terrorists, convict them and lock them up. Bust the drug smugglers. Find the car boosters and recover their loot. Nail the poachers. But do it without using your geek gear to snoop around me. Even with honest agencies and personnel, the overall level of official nosiness is headed toward oppressiveness. This calls for judicious regulation of the toy box.
Several recent cases illustrate. In Weber County, the sheriff’s office has begun using a $20,000 system in a patrol car to scan plates on all vehicles that go by, sometimes hundreds in an hour. The numbers flow through law enforcement databases and problem plates are flagged. Stolen cars have been spotted, but the automation has allowed officers to hand out lots more citations for expired tags and the like. This is like being asked by a robot to show your papers.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has been battling in Congress to rein in use of full-body scanners at airports. He regards it as an excessive infringement of passenger privacy. More recently, it has come to light that law enforcement agencies and security firms have fielded drive-by van X-ray scanners. They can reveal details behind walls, such as human bodies, weapons, etc. Makes me think twice, even more than usual, about strolling through my house in shorts. The Big Eye may be watching.
What’s the cliche? Even paranoids are right sometimes.
A constitutional challenge resulted from the recent case of a bobcat trapper who was convicted of poaching pelts. Wildlife officers tracked his movements with a GPS device planted on his vehicle. His attorney fought the surveillance as an unconstitutional infringement of his rights. The appeal failed but the case law remains murky. In some states, GPS surveillance require a judge’s warrant. Elsewhere, not even informal judicial authorization is mandated.
This is a good time for cooler heads. I am glad that use of new technologies are being debated. It’s healthy that legislative bodies and courts have become involved. In such an environment of an open society, it’s much more difficult for a Boss Hogg or police state situation to develop.