J. D. Heyes
December 21, 2011
There was a time when ordinary citizens still had an expectation of the right to privacy, even in public, but as technology has improved over the past generation, so has the government’s ability to get around the Constitution and the rule of law when it comes to keeping the common folk under surveillance.
We’re talking about more than just traffic light and city surveillance cameras. We’re talking aboutthe use of undercover police to infiltrate otherwise peaceful groups, andemploying dronesto spy on citizens without proper legal authority to do so.
“There is no question that this could become something that people will regret,” said former U.S. Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., on the use of federally owned drones by state and local police agencies. Harmon, a onetime chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee’s subcommittee on homeland security, said when federal agencies like Customs and Border Protection were first authorized by Congress to unarm Predator drones, use by local agencies was never discussed.
“Any time you have a tool like that in the hands of law enforcement that makes it easier to do surveillance, they will do more of it,” added Ryan Calo, director for privacy and robotics at the Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.
In recent Occupy L.A. protests, local undercover cops infiltrated the group on the grounds that theymightbe stockpiling human waste and crude weapons. Though cops wound up arresting more than 40 people on various charges including drug use, and discovered buckets of feces, water bottles filled with urine and pieces of bamboo with sharpened tips stashed in bushes and trees after breaking the protest up Nov. 30, it was the manner in which they made those arrests that troubled civil libertarians.
Police, who admittedly have a tough job, are still supposed to operate within the confines of the Constitution, and no one reported seeing any search warrants before, during or after the protests.
“It should make everybody at least uncomfortable,” Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, told Reuters. “That’s the fundamental difference between America’s free democratic system and the kind of system one would expect to find in Iran.”
As for the increasing use of drones, advocates have no trouble when they are used to, say, protect U.S. borders from unauthorized incursion by people who are sneaking into the country illegally and could be terrorists or criminals. But they are less understanding when drones are used, if for no other reason than the temptation to employ them without first considering the constitutional implications.
“This could be a time when people are uncomfortable, and they want to place limits on that technology,” says Calo, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It could make us question the doctrine that you do not have privacy in public.”
Not everyone agrees that the use of this technology is a bad thing – especially those in positions of power – and that ought to be disconcerting, to say the least.
“I am for the use of drones,” Howard Safir, former head of operations for the U.S. Marshals Service and former New York City police commissioner, told the Times.
This article was posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 4:23 am