"Can't you stop someone suspicious, to see what's going on?"


Dahlia Lithwick reports on the oral arguments in the Hiibel ID case over at Slate. From the way she makes it sound, it doesn't seem as if the Supreme Court is prepared to do the serious reconsideration of the meaning of giving your ID to a cop in a database age that I called upon them to do in my Los Angeles Times op-ed.

: I had to rewrite this entry from memory because of an idiotic technical error I made that destroyed the original version as posted (and as commented on in the comment thread.)

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  1. Does Lithwick always write about past events in the present tense? How very annoying.

  2. The Justices’ line of thinking is just plain scary. How much longer until we are forced to carry papers and must produce them upon request, allowing our lives to be searched and frisked upon the whim of an officer of the “law”?

  3. Your Social Security number is a de facto identification “paper”, and most of us willingly surrender it upon request. Too late to put that genie back in the bottle.

    This issue will become moot when face-recognition systems and other inventions like it finally mature and achieve widespread use. Then “showing your papers” could occur whenever you open your blinds.

  4. Critic – SS# – Not exactly. Where I live (AZ) it isn’t on your State Issued ID or DL, and I think in most states you can request that it be removed. In the way back when I worked at a grocery store, we’d ask for it when people used checks but we couldn’t require it.

  5. ERock,

    You can refuse to give it, and the would-be recipient can refuse to do business with you. Try opening a bank account or applying for a job without surrendering it.

  6. ERock – the point isn’t that entities require it, but that we’ve been conditioned to accept it as a universal identifier. Even if it’s not on your driver’s license (here in KY it’s not, when I lived in VA it was), you still give it up to just about anyone who asks, including the government (even though it’s not ON my DL, I still ahd to have a SS card to get one) and private parties (banks, employers, etc.). One reason the government can so easily cross reference public and private databases in initiatives like CAPPS is that most of the databases use your SSN as an identifier. Were that not the case, it would certanly be more difficult.

  7. Your Social Security number was printed on your driving license? Good God.

  8. Sam I Was,
    Yeah, I know some states, like MA at least, have SSN as the default number, but you can request it to be something different. I’d wager quite a few people have it on there as the identifier thinking, “Hey, it’ll make my life more convienent just to have it on my driver’s license.”

  9. It`s (ssn) the certification number on all pilot`s license. And it`s been that way for many years.
    I opened a bank account in 1992 for my ex-meskin
    wife and they entered 000-00-0000 for here ssn,
    she was not a US citizen.Those people get all the breaks.

  10. There is a significant difference between choosing to give your personal information to a private party and being forced to give it to a government official.

    Just wait until someone is detained because they were walking by a school, stopped by a police officer, and the cop saw that this person had used his credit card to buy porn.

    If they allow id on demand, combined with linking databases, just how much information will the average cop/security guard/club bouncer have access to?

    Byna, concerned but not frantic

  11. If they allow id on demand, combined with linking databases, just how much information will the average cop/security guard/club bouncer have access to?

    This is why we need, and I suspect never get, a privacy amendment to the Constitution. Rather than finding such a right in “emanances” and “penumbras,” it should be found in plain language, as bald as that of the first amendment if not more so. Interpretation will be a bitch, but that’s what we pay judges for.

    Sadly, it’s so useful to keep track of us that you’ll never get much of Congress to agree, especially now that Tara threatens us all.

  12. I recognize the privacy problems raised by Sandy and Byna, but it seems to me that the problem is with the databases and their access. A cop asking your name is not a privacy invasion. If the giving of a name to a police officer becomes a de facto 4th amendment violation because of database access, then the solution is with data privacy.

  13. I was a little more sympathetic until I discovered the cop was called to the scene to investigate allegations of a fight between a man and a woman in a truck. The cop pulls up, there is a man talking to a woman in a pickup truck.

    It’s not exactly as severe a case of police oppression as I was led to believe. The Court has to deal with the facts before it, and the fact that the cops’ actions seem reasonable, doesn’t bode well for petitioner.

  14. > his idea that the “suspicious people” (read: dark-skinned, poor, urban etc.)

  15. It seems some people don’t know much of the detail of the case in question. Here’s a website about the case. You can see then entire incident for yourself:


  16. “Someone suspicious,” eh?

    When I’m driving the speed limit, and a cop stays right behind me through two turns, I tend to think HE is being suspicious.

    The fact that we’re required to justify our behavior, and worry about them considering us suspicious, but the reverse doesn’t hold true, just shows the extent to which this society has been Prussianized since the introduction of professional law enforcement.

    When professional police were introduced in the big cities back in the 1830s, the common understanding was that they were simply being paid to do what any citizen had the right to do, and that they weren’t a superior caste.

  17. Thoreau,
    they are still watching you dude, they have just gotten better at staying out of your sight.

  18. Maybe the more enthusiastic cops are thinking about all those routine stops that turn into kazillion-dollar drug busts.

    I’m sorry all you suspicious-looking folks get hassled now and again. I pretty well solved that problem when I started showing them my Texas concealed handgun license. Once LEOs see that they know further investigation isn’t going to turn up any surprises.

  19. Speaking of it being lucrative for cops to bust people for drugs…

    I was watching Cops the other night (I was bored and too tired to read). The cops caught some guy with pot in his car. A passenger said “That’s my pot” and the driver said the same.

    The cops told the driver that they have the legal right to take his car because pot was found in it, but they won’t because the car is pretty messed up. They basically admitted that they use the asset forfeiture law as a cash cow.

    So, let this be a lesson to all of you out there: It’s OK to have drugs if you don’t own a nice car. You have to pick which luxury you prefer, because you can’t have both.

  20. All this talk of police officers being able to check out your ID and your past history. What about the rest of us. I wonder when it is going to be mandatory for everyone to have a bar code or something. So that if you meet someone that you might be interested in, you can run the barcode to see what they look like naked, and maybe what they look like without makup. Also you could check to see if they are stalkers or whatever.

    If we are going to lose our privacy, why is it that only cops get to benefit?

  21. >> his idea that the “suspicious people” (read: dark-skinned, poor, urban etc.)

    >I thought the suspicious guy was a white-skinned rural type?

    Well, this IS slate we’re talking about…mandatory political correctness, and all

  22. Joe

    “…there’s only one reason why I drive the speed limit, and it tends to make me notice cops more and generally find things suspicious.”

    I comprehend your potato. I had a similar experience a few weeks ago:
    Local motorcycle cop, Saturday morning, just him and me in a 30 MPH zone. Beautiful day, heading east, sun just above the trees, music sounding better than usual, quarter mile before the ramp to I-95, sweaty palms, racing heart, cargo worth five to ten. He turned, I made the ramp, and the rest is history.
    No harm, no foul.

  23. Andy, thanks for the link.

    How altogether unsurprising, except one would expect this to happen less in an outlying areas of Nevada.

    I used to run into that kind of treatment from the local constabulary when I was a wise-guy teenager, except I generally ran out of courage before the cuffs came out.

    Now that I’m old and sedate the cops don’t seem to notice me much anymore.

    Still makes my blood boil, but since most people rarely to never have contact with the law in a negative manner they don’t realize that this kind of cop SOP tends to be the norm.

  24. “There is a significant difference between choosing to give your personal information to a private party and being forced to give it to a government official.”

    This difference becomes inignificant, when government simply passes a law requiring businesses to open their databases to the police. All in the name of finding terrorists or keeping tabs on sex offenders. Those laws pass every time, mostly on unanimous vote.
    There is no choice in giving your SSN to the insurance company when the alternative is either not driving or breaking a law driving without insurance.
    I wish the court would address the intimidation factor inherent in police checks. Keeping everybody in line seems to be the main purpose of much police work today.
    This past winter the very responsible college student son of friends did donuts in the snow on the empty college parking lot to experience his car’s handling and train himself in dealing with slick conditions. A local cop wrote him up on reckless driving charges with the usual intimidation line of “I am giving you a break. I could charge you with wanton endangerment, arrest you and get your car impounded.” Now he has 3 points and sky-high insurance (thanks to data sharing) and will be labeled a dangerous driver for quite some time (also thanks to data sharing).
    Nice work Mr. Policeman!

  25. I don’t understand why, if the police really want my name, they don’t have to choose between detaining me as a material witness (and the expense that entails) and running all my identifying marks or just letting me go on.

    Why should I have to say anything to anyone?

  26. “When I’m driving the speed limit, and a cop stays right behind me through two turns, I tend to think HE is being suspicious.’

    Yeah, me too. But then, there’s only one reason why I drive the speed limit, and it tends to make me notice cops more and generally find things suspicious 🙂

  27. > I don’t understand why, if the police really want my name, they don’t have to choose between detaining me as a material witness

  28. Several years ago I was driving the speed limit on the local freeway at night. I noticed a cop car behind me. He took the same exit as me. Since I’d gotten a ticket a few months earlier I decided to cut my trip short (I was just going to drive up to some local mountains to enjoy the view, since I was procrastinating from homework). But he took the same turn as me. So then I started getting paranoid. He stayed behind me. Then he took a turn, but another cop car suddenly appeared behind me. I got so paranoid that I pulled into a parking lot. They didn’t follow me in.

    I figured I was safe, so after a minute I got back on the road. Then suddenly another cop car appeared behind me. And this one appeared right in a zone where the speed limit changes but the signs aren’t too noticeable. I was careful, so I didn’t get stopped for speeding. But then that cop car disappeared and another one appeared behind me.

    Nothing actually happened, but I was SO freaked out that night that I couldn’t sleep.

  29. Just tell the cop your name. Is that so freakin’ difficult?

  30. How about I give your name, David?

    This issue for me is not so much privacy as annonymity (and spelling!) Until I do something wrong, I want to be left alone. Police work has morphed from observing crime to database fishing expeditions. The cops’ laziness results in my being detained while he fishes for some violation he has no reason to suspect. Unless, we are all suspect…

  31. …To engage in world travel does not make one a suspect, nor does it grant a right to any US authoritative body to treat one in a criminal manor, nor should one be subjected to what amounts to a preliminary interrogation to determine one’s “potential” as a suspect.

    It is a sad day for all Americans who do not recognize the slow stripping of their protected Constitutional rights, justified by simmering “state of emergency” being imposed by the so-called “terrorist threat.” in the Homeland.

    My dear America, you are being set-up day by day by a ruling elite that manipulates situations in order to bring about a desired “order”. Is it so far fetched to think that citizens are being conditioned like mice to respond in predictable ways? Do you think massive social control is not a tool of the political power machine?

    To try and convince one of the conditions they are in is like trying to convince an alcoholic that she has a drinking problem. You must look for yourselves, but look you must!

    Find out before it is too late, read the George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, find out about the tie in between the present US federal government and the finance backers of Nazi Germany ww II. Did you know that much of the Nazi war machine steel was produced by US companies whose directors were members of the Bush family? Do you not see Jose? Are you blind by the light of shinning dollars? Is it so hard to considered that their may very well be a relationship between, limiting Civil rights, tightening search & seizer laws and overthrowing governments for the purpose of US hegemony?

    Please wake up from your sleep. America has the most enlightened body of Civil Rights ever developed on the planet to date, but do you think it shall remain that way without a struggle and awareness of what is actually going down? Miss America is wearing tatter closed being ripped apart at every corner by wolves in sheep clothes.

    Just leave the country and see what others are subjected to around the world, and if you are not appalled then you should not quip about how unimportant this little supreme court decision might be on the road of you being stripped of your protected rights.

    Do you know who appointed the two judges leading the opinion of the court…they too are members of the inside club, whether you care to believe it or not.

    You may find that the views offered herein are of a paranoid conspiracy type character, but as it was said there is no sense in trying to convince anyone of anything. This idea of the paranoid conspiracy is a tool of the social engineering masters used to distract and raise discord among a concerned populace. Read Civil Disobedience by Thoreau.

    What is America today? Leave her shores and find out how intelligent people from around the globe see her lying their sick and ill on her deathbed.

    The problem is that when she fails to uphold the values and principles of freedom and with defended rights for individual expression and harmony among all peoples, we the rest in the world will suffer along with her, becoming slaves to a controlled and mechanized inhuman society.

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