In the Spirit of the Lost Liberty Hotel

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Last week, the Associated Press reports, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt "proposed placing surveillance cameras in apartment complexes, downtown streets, shopping malls and even private homes to fight crime during a shortage of police officers." His response to critics: "I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?"

Why indeed? My friend Matt Asher has established the Hurtt Prize: a reward "for the first person who can provide definitive videotaped evidence of Houston police chief Harold Hurtt committing a crime, any crime. This evidence will posted here and forward to the Houston Police Department along with a demand that action be taken." Matt has put up $1000 of his own money towards the award, and is soliciting pledges to increase the size of the pot.

NEXT: They'll Pry This Keg From My Cold Dead Fingers

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  1. if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

    To which I would reply, “If I am not doing anything wrong, why should you videotape me?”

    If Hurtt is serious about this, he will put webcams in his house. After all, if he’s not doing anything wrong, why should he worry about it?

  2. if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

    That logic assumes two things:

    1) State actors never abuse their authority.
    2) All laws are sensible.

    Obviously, #1 is laughable. #2 is more debatable, but a quick read of Go Directly to Jail should end that debate real quick.

  3. A reader on the blog BoingBoing offers a suggestion: “I believe it is still a city statute in Houston that one must make a 360-degree survey of any car one intends to start to verify that no children are under the vehicle or threatened by it.”

    Should be no trouble at all to find out if this guy really has “nothing to fear” from the law.

  4. Hurtt can make a quick grand by taping himself ripping a tag off of his mattress.

  5. I’m certainly not in favor of cameras everywhere (although they do seem to be everywhere these days), but how is being watched by camera much different than having cops patroling and watching people? My fear would be that video tapes might be “edited”.

  6. I wouldn’t have a problem with the cameras if:

    (1) the database was viewed by no one and you needed a warrant to view anything in it.

    (2) the laws that they were used to enforce weren’t so asinine.

  7. mp

    you totally beat me to it.

  8. if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

    I do plenty of things in a day that aren’t wrong or illegal that I wouldn’t want anyone watching on tape. Not every scratch, pick and adjustment should be public record.

    The chief’s stance is especially funny considering lengths that police go to in order to avoid being recorded.

  9. Back to the “The Top 100 Things I’d Do if I Ever Became a Libertarian President”:

    #35: I’d wear a webcam 24/7.

  10. if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?

    Very true. Which is why I submit to a strip search and a rectal probe on command. I mean, I’m not trying to hide anything, so why should I object?

  11. Not every scratch, pick and adjustment should be public record.

    LOL – Amen to that. The notion that these cameras are fine “as long as everyone has access to them” needs to be fought vigorously. These cameras are NOT fine, if you have any respect for the division of the public & the private.

  12. Going along with what Grant Gould said, there are lots of obscure and strange laws on the books. Supposedly it’s illegal to serve apple pie without cheese in Wisconsin. There are email forwards, humor columns, libertarian columns, and no doubt web sites that record similar bizarre laws.

  13. thoreau, see Dumb Laws.

  14. for the first person who can provide definitive videotaped evidence of Houston police chief Harold Hurtt committing a crime

    That’s apparently eavesdropping. You could find up in jail for a long time. Of course, the first part of that would probably be spent in the prison hospital learning how to live without any teeth.

    And if you’re doing it in Houston, you could endanger the freedom of every person within 100 yards.

  15. It is illegal in Texas to be a peeping Tom, but, if the cameras are going to work, they’ll have to be everywhere, otherwise people could just walk into, say, the bathroom, to snort coke. Thus, the Houston cops are going to get to spend hours watching people go to the bathroom, have (perfectly legal, even in Muslim countries) sex, take showers, or just walk around in their underwear at 6 a.m. Some of those people will be underage children taking baths or peeing. So, Chief, what do you do with your officers who spend LOTS of time watching random people do very private things that would get them prosecuted if they were on their own time?

    By the way, there are lots of other reasons to object to this idiotic idea, but the fact that it requires certain people to violate the very laws they’re trying to enforce seems to me to be one of the better ones.

  16. One thing I wonder about is where people got this notion that cameras prevent crime in the first place?

    When I was younger, I worked in several places that had video surveillance, it never stopped shoplifters. Nor do cameras stop convenience store robberies, ATM muggings, or other such crimes. All cameras do is provide a video record for police to try to build a case with later.

  17. This reminds of something I saw on cable access a few years ago. One of Austin’s less-grounded-in-reality citizens suggested that home security systems had two-way transmitters so that the guvmint could listen to all our conversations. My husband and I have spent years trying to write a Saturday Night Live sketch based on two agents played by Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd assigned to surveying ordinary suburbanites, and how the justify watching us instead of, say, guys learning to fly 747’s but not bothering to learn how to land. We’ve had the agents hack into our iTunes accounts, play the Xbox, order pizzas on-line and create a fake NetFlix account. Up until now, I thought we were just having fun, but apparently Mr. Nutzoid was on to something . . .

  18. That’s it. I give up. The booboisie are winning, and standing in their way is just foolish.

  19. One thing I wonder about is where people got this notion that cameras prevent crime in the first place?

    Google is your friend.

    Crime prevention effects of closed circuit television: a systematic review

    Money quote:

    “it was concluded that CCTV had a significant desirable effect on crime, although the overall reduction in crime was a rather small four per cent.”

  20. Hurtt can make a quick grand by taping himself ripping a tag off of his mattress.

    I think that applies only to the retailer. After it’s sold, the mattress owner can tear it off with impunity.

    So you all can rest easy: The SWAT cops won’t bust down your door because your Perfect Sleeper doesn’t have the tag on it.

    But if you’ve been copying music from one of your CDs…

  21. ?if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it??
    a.k.a
    ?Only the guilty have reason to fear?

    I am always surprised at how many people unthinkingly swallow this rationale, and/or repeat it in various forms.

    I think what people need to understand is that accepting this principle basically means we?ve handed authority carte blanche to treat everyone like criminal suspects, all the time. It?s granting them the assumption that their authority extends to all areas of our public and private lives. It basically says, ?all information about me belongs to the state first, and me second?.

    My new retort to this (inspired by a comment above) is, ?if you have nothing to hide, surely you can?t object to a rectal probe??

  22. Oh Houston, try as you may, Chicago has you totally beat in the Big Brother Crime Prevention Category.

    This is how you do a big brother operation in the big city. Require every business who has a license operating in the city to have mandatory indoor and outdoor cameras that are linked to city main grid, all while requiring the businesses to pay for it on their own dime.

  23. how is being watched by camera much different than having cops patroling and watching people?

    Because you can watch the cops, you can’t watch the person watching the video monitor. And a cop’s vision can’t be played back.

    It’s not a matter of privacy or information. It’s a matter of power. Video surveillence puts all the power on one side. Ever hear of power that isn’t used?

  24. Speaking of cameras, I heard a disturbing little tidbit here in Florida. Late last year, we doubled our red-light-running fines (in the name of some kids who were killed in an intersection collision). We also are seeing a lot of cameras going up, though my understanding is that, as I type, no fines are being imposed when your tag is photographed while running a red light. But there’s that major fine increase. . . . For safety. For the children.

    For the treasury.

  25. “…but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

    I didn’t realize that was a phrase that people actually used. Amazing.

  26. Rich Ard-They also like “If it makes us safer, I don’t have a problem with it.”

  27. From the article: “Such cameras are costly, Houston Mayor Bill White said, “but on the other hand we spend an awful lot for patrol presence.” He called the chief’s proposal a “brainstorm” rather than a decision.”

    That’s not quite the term I’d use for it…

    What the fuck is happening to this country of ours????

  28. ChrisO-The people are getting what they want.

  29. Only what they think they want, Number 6. When the people who want such cameras are issued tickets for minor infractions caught by them, they’ll howl about how it wasn’t what they’d had in mind.

  30. Right, David, but they’ll still call for more surveilance of others. Most people want to be free-they just don’t want to extend the same courtesy to others.

  31. Back to the “The Top 100 Things I’d Do if I Ever Became a Libertarian President”:

    Ok, Pro Libertate, I’ll play along –

    I would require all government employees to be connected to a lie detector any time they addressed the public (with results clearly visible), including myself and my press secretary.

  32. Qbryzan, with electric shocks for lies, I presume? Hmm, behavioral conditioning of politicians. Using negative reinforcement. Excellent idea.

  33. PL, I like the way you think – electric shocks good.

    Any time someone in my administration screws up, and “takes responsibility”, they will have to suffer a punishment. Nothing fatal or extreme, just uncomfortable or embarassing. Example – you accidentally shoot someone in the face, you must drink an 8 oz glass of tabasco.

  34. A libertarian president could also reward good behavior with a bonus plan. For instance, political appointees who reach year end without violating the Constitution get a 50% bonus.

    As for punishment, don’t forget public humiliation.

  35. To quote Dr. Ferris in Atlas Shrugged:

    “Did you really think we want those laws observed? We want them to be broken. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted ? and you create a nation of law-breakers ? and then you cash in on guilt.”

    I have yet to see anyone openly throw this arguement at the current crop of lawmakers.

  36. As I’ve said before, and I speak as a civil prosecutor, (fraud against consumers, mostly) banning something doesn’t make people stop doing the banned thing, it only allows the state to fine or imprison those who continue.

  37. Example – you accidentally shoot someone in the face, you must drink an 8 oz glass of tabasco.

    In some walks of life, that could win you a new car.

  38. http://houston.areaconnect.com/crime/compare.htm?c1=Houston&s1=TX&c2=new+york&s2=NY

    They should fire this guy’s ass for being incompetent. If you can’t have a lower crime rate than NYC, then what good are you? It’s not like they made a secret of how they reduced crime in NYC.

    Memo to the Houston police chief: You can have my 4th amendment rights when you pry them from my cold, dead hands. In the meantime, try fighting crime the old fashioned way, by being competent.

  39. We already took them, happyjuggler0; sorry, we must not have mentioned it to you.

  40. Yeah, between the Patriot act, NSA presidential directives, and the drug war, I’m pretty sure I could easily get myself killed defending my Supreme court protected constitutional rights.

    But so long as it is for the children I don’t mind. Cough.

  41. Daley’s eyes-in-the sky are creeping over the Cheddar Curtain. From the Feb. 21, 2006 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    (Milwaukee Mayor Tom) Barrett also endorsed efforts to place surveillance “pole cameras” in high-crime areas, but no estimates of the number of cameras or cost were included.

    Police Chief Nannette Hegerty already has sent a captain on a fact-finding mission to Chicago, where the program began in 2003.

    Hegerty said Milwaukee could seek grant money to buy the cameras and is considering using drug forfeiture money to help pay for some.

    The cameras can cost more than $20,000 per unit – plus more for a computer and software to be used in the field by officers, who can monitor the area from a few blocks away.

    “Right now, we’re digging for money,” Hegerty said.

    She said the cameras have proved successful in Chicago, where some areas have seen a 70% decrease in drug crimes. She stressed the cameras, typically placed on light poles, are in the open and would not be used to invade privacy.

    Police officers stationed nearby can use a joystick to adjust the angle and zoom in on drug transactions, capturing images of faces and even money or drugs changing hands.

    In Chicago, she said, the tapes are reused after three days, unless they are needed for evidence in an investigation.

    “Just the fact a camera is there acts as a deterrent,” Hegerty said.

    Kevin

  42. If you can’t have a lower crime rate than NYC, then what good are you?

    These days, with NYC among the lowest-crime cities of any decent size, that’s not much of a taunt.

  43. Unless that “low crime rate” comes from monkeying with how crimes are tracked and reported. Chicago did that when I lived there. I’m sure NYC is guilty of the same transgression, though it certainly has improved mightily over the years (largely due to an economic upswing, if you ask me, but that’s another issue).

  44. What does 70% decrease in drug crimes mean? 70% Fewer arrests? I can believe the police find out about violent crimes, but drug crimes? Where do they get information on that?

  45. The whole notion that cameras will end or decrease drug “crimes” is silly. They may decrease the drug “crimes” where the cameras are, but they will simply migrate elsewhere.

    More wasted taxpayer dollars thanks to the drug war.

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