If You've Got Nothing to Hide (From Unmarked Cop Cars)


Via Drudge comes word that the City of Broad Shoulders is kitting out unmarked police cars with "a Big Brother bonus"—hidden, high-powered microphones to eavesdrop on street conversations.

"You could pull into a street corner and, if there's a drug deal going on a half-block away, you can hear what's going on. You could have all the windows shut and the air-conditioning on and you could hear everything going on outside the vehicle," [Chicago PD Fleet Management Commissioner Michael] Picardi said.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said he would be concerned if the police recorded those conversations without a warrant.

"It would raise serious questions under the Fourth Amendment and the Illinois eavesdropping law," Yohnka said.

NEXT: Unintended Consequence

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  1. Eavesdropping laws, hah. Like police ever concern themselves with what’s legal.

  2. What kind of specs are those mics going to need to survive rolling to a stop next to some pimped-out hooptie blowing 200+ bass-heavy db?

    Do people still say “hooptie”?


  3. Sshhh Mo, they’ll hear you!

  4. kevrob,

    Even if the mics break, the cops still win. Instant probable cause to arrest for destruction of government property.

  5. Did people ever say hooptie?

    All the police will need to do is have one high profile arrest with this new tech to squash dissenting voices.

    The real question, how long before some cops use it blackmail people, or to spy on girlfriends, wives, etc.?

  6. I’m calling Bullshit on this one. Such technology is not possible. Not as described anyway. i.e. small mics, hidden in a single unremarkable car, that can filter out all street noise other than a particular conversation taking place over a block away. Nope, can’t do it. Not yet anyway, but it is more plausible than a working missile defense.

  7. You could have all the windows shut and the air-conditioning on and you could hear everything going on outside the vehicle…

    Ahh, this strikes me as similar to what was struck down in United States v Kyllo as violative of the Fourth Amendment: the use of a thermal imaging device to measure the heat leaking from a house.

  8. kevrob, you got a point…I’d love to imagine the evidenciary hearing where the judge is struggling to make out the words “five keys…three thousand…my crib” between the bone-crushing beat of “Freek-A-Leek”.

  9. Maybe the plan is to have the tech in place and normalized before the theocracy takes over. That way they can monitor our piety.

  10. I look forward to seeing the “Pimp My Ride” crew outfitting cars with white noise generators.

  11. This is no problem. Use the cone of silence Agent 99.

  12. Illinois has a strange position on recording conversations. The law in Illinois requires both parties to a telephone conversation to consent to the recording. How Chicago plans to subvert this law seems pretty obvious. The streets are a public place, and there is no expectation of privacy in public places. Now, having said that, the power of these microphones to detect conversations a “half block away” indicates that they may also be powerful enough to detect conversations taking place in a public payphone or a first floor flat with single-pane windows which are shut.

    This is a very scary and dangerous adaptation of technology. I hope the Supreme Court of Illinois puts the kibosh to this attempt to overreach the scope of police authority to use technology to enhance their ability to fuck with people.

  13. All they are going to hear from me is my stinking farts!

  14. Gary,

    The evidence gathered (though the chain of cause) in United States v Kyllo was thrown out on the grounds that the imaging device collected data – the goings on inside your house – that you have a reasonable expectation of privacy about.

    You don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you’re having a conversation on a public street.

  15. You don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you’re having a conversation on a public street.

    What about “a half-block away” from a public street?

  16. joe,

    The problem isn’t my legal analysis, its my reading of the fact pattern (which out to be obvious since I refer, to you know, a home).

  17. Eric the .5b,

    Well, you may indeed have a reasonable expectation of privacy outside your home in this situation; it would depend on the facts. Though note that courts have found that doesn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy even when your garbage is taken from a closed garage. The courts will generally bend over backwards to undercut any such claim re: a drug charge (by essentially finding that the second prong of Katz isn’t met).

  18. Eric the .5b,

    Keep in mind that joe is from Massachusetts. 🙂

    I was in Lowell over the weekend; the Boott Mill N.P. is well worth the visit.

  19. What if you’er whispering joe? When I whisper and no one is near me, I expect some privacy, public street or no. Granted, I doubt this would hold up in court, but there is an expectation of privacy by the average American.

  20. I seem to recall Joe, Peter and Cleveland inadvertently reading my mind with such a device while spying on Lois. These things are fraught with unintended consequences.

  21. You know, whatever one might or might not reasonably expect, I wonder how “necessary” these stretches (if not outright infringements) of privacy rights would be if there were no drug war. Drug prohibition is basically a sisyphean task for the cops. The harder they fight against the black market the higher the prices soar, the more violent and corrupt it becomes, and the more problems the addicts encounter.

    Given the sheer impossibility of the task, it’s no surprise that the cops and courts inevitably try to expand their powers.

    It’s different with theft or murder or rape. The cops can’t completely eradicate these crimes, but arresting a rapist doesn’t create a vacuum for some other rapist to fill. It doesn’t make the problem even worse or drive victims underground. It doesn’t improve market share for the most violent and corrupt rapists. All it does is remove one more rapist from society and make decent people safer.

    And how many thieves, rapists, and murderers have been arrested as a result of very dubious searches and seizures? No doubt a few, but mostly these ever-expanding police powers seem to be for drug investigations. And while it would be unfortunate if the handful of thieves, rapists and murderers caught in dubious searches had not been caught, I wonder if the manpower and effort spent on drug cases might make it possible for the cops to catch more thieves, rapists, and murderers without doing dubious searches.

    *Given how literal some people can be on this forum, I want to emphasize that theft, rape, and murder are not the only crimes that cops should be investigating. I merely offer them as examples. The cops should also investigate things like vandalism, fraud, and arson, and no doubt some other crimes as well. My point is merely that the cops should focus on problems that they can actually make progress against, rather than problems that they can only exacerbate.

  22. Good point, thoreau. I always like to bring up the fact that with victimmed (as opposed to victimless) crimes, there’s a directly involved complainant, someone who feels he was wronged and wants to get the person who wronged him. Not so with many victimless crimes, where both “criminals” conducted a mutually desired transaction with each other. If no one wants to complain, how to you catch them but to infringe on their privacy? Oh yeah, you can also “profile” them and forcibly search people whose looks and incidental behaviors are typical of those involved in such transactions…

  23. Good point fyodor. If there’s a victim then that usually means there’s somebody who’s eager to provide information. The info might not be a lot, but it’s a starting point. And in all likelihood the victim will be willing to have his or her property searched for evidence. There’s no guarantee that this evidence will be enough, but the point is that the police can (usually) begin their investigation with information that was collected voluntarily. Not always, but certainly more often than in cases that involve drugs, gambling, and prostitution.

  24. Sounds like a typical case of the government having some great technology which is hyped up in the story. The reality is the bumbling idiots at the police department probably won’t know how to use is correctly, the large number of different users will cause no one to take care of it, and the result is even if these devices do exist they won’t work after around a year on the job. Of course then the powers that be will bitch that they need money to buy more because they are an indespenceable part of police work. Just like tazers, humvees, bomb squads, crime labs, informants, swat teams, and who knows what else we pay for…

  25. What are you all worried about? Unless you have something to hide, you have nothing to fear…..

  26. If no one wants to complain, how to you catch them but to infringe on their privacy?

    Lots of people want to complain in advance. And some people consider themselves victims of drug transactions that they weren’t involved in because the drug dealers “threaten” the neighborhood. So if A buys dope from B, and C witnesses it, well, there’s your complaint. (In many cases, C is a cop). Of course, if drugs weren’t villified to this extent, B would probably buy his dope in a store; but there’s already complaints about liquor stores in bad neighborhoods, so it really boils down to the fact that C doesn’t like B being around in the first place.

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