The One-Way Fishbowl

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The NYPD has been filming public protests for years, and had city lawyers argue recently that capturing anything going on in public is just fine–which does indeed seem to be a fair interpretation of privacy law as it has evolved. However, when their sauce is gored, or when asked if what's good for the goose is good for the ox, it is–predictably, I know–a different matter. And the Patriot Act is involved, somehow.

As the Village Voice reports, a couple of advocates from "Transportation Alternatives" were investigating a practice that annoys them: cars illegally parked blocking sidewalks. When they did it outside the Fifth Precinct in Chinatown, they were held, questioned, and told to delete photos of police officers' personal cars parked on the sidewalk. One of the photograpers held:

says the officers listed several reasons they could not photograph cops' personal vehicles, including concerns that if the license plate numbers were published online, gang members could track police to their homes. "One officer asked if we were familiar with the gang situation in Chinatown," Hoberman recalls. "He said his tires had been slashed outside the precinct. He said, 'This is not the West Village.' And he mentioned the Patriot Act.
…….
His account was confirmed by David Snetman, the Transportation Alternatives staffer coordinating the survey, who came to the precinct to intervene. "They said the Patriot Act is somehow involved. The commanding officer, an Asian man, chimed in and said to me, 'Are you familiar with the Patriot Act?' " Snetman says. "They said if we wanted to continue our survey, Brian would have to delete the photos he'd taken. They didn't go so far as to say it was illegal; they just said they didn't want us to do it."

The Voice story goes on to tell another story of traffic scofflaw cops insisting citizens cannot take pictures of them. David Brin's "transparent society," as he will remind us, is only livable when the watchers watch the watchers watching the watched watching the watchers, and so on. Clearly, there's still a fair amount of window-washing to do before we reach that version of transparency.

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  1. “if the license plate numbers were published online, gang members could track police to their homes.”

    Who the hell are these gang members? Are they paraplegic? How are they are more likely to stumble upon this obscure transportation magazine online and happen to notice that some of the cars were parked out in front of the local precinct, andthus conclude that they were cops’ unmarked cars…instead of, you know, walking by and seeing them?

    I could understand if they were taking pictures of some kind of behind-closed-doors stuff, but this is a fucking photograph of a car on the street. Now, unless they also prohibit people from actually looking at cars as the pass the police station, they have no rational basis here.

  2. Apparently, advocates of the PATRIOT Act who say it’s not a blank check for law enforcement ought to get their story straight with actual law enforcement.

  3. Garth: *sniff sniff* Hey Wayne, I think I smell bacon. Do you smell bacon?

    Wayne: I definitely smell pork products of some type.

  4. Zach, maybe the cops read about the vast super powers of the Patriot Act and decided it would work for their “catch-all law of the day.” But they can always fall back on the disorderly conduct charge and for a beat down, a resisting arrest charge.

  5. What happens when I take a picture with my cell phone? I mean my cell phone doesn’t store the picture, it emails it to several email addresses I have (in several different countries), where I can then download it to my computer at my leasure. I COULD NOT “delete” a picture I take with my cell phone even if I wanted to.

    Now, the police would probably never bother me, because when I take pictures with my cell phone, I can pretend to be reading a text message… but still.

    I can also hit a speed dial button (just one press, no-one would really notice) that calls my voice mail account, and does a pretty good job in picking up any conversations I would be having with the police… and once again, it couldn’t be deleted – they would have to be able to crack my voice mail account.

    Thanks to modern technology, it is getting easier and easier for a person to monitor just about everthing, and there is not a lot the police can do anymore.

  6. Who the hell are these gang members? How are they are more likely to stumble upon this obscure transportation magazine online and happen to notice that some of the cars were parked out in front of the local precinct, andthus conclude that they were cops’ unmarked cars…instead of, you know, walking by and seeing them?

    It’s against the rules of engagement. Article four, paragraph B(3) of the Watts Treaty of 1986 clearly states that gang members, in their relentless quest to track down police officers and murder them in their beds, are forbidden to perform surveillance outside actual police stations. Otherwise the playing field would just be too uneven.

    Seriously, the thing about LEO’s that has most annoyed/alarmed me in the past few years has been this insistance that they need all sorts of extraordinary powers because that’s the only way they can keep themselves safe from the bad guys… Where are all these great rotting piles of dead LEOs? Based on all the supposed paranoia, I would expect to trip over a uniformed corpse on every street corner.

  7. Some handy stats on workplace fatalities by occupation (including police) can be found here:
    http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cfch0003.pdf

    According to these stats, in 2004 there were 18.2 fatalities per hundred thousand among “Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers.” This is as opposed to:
    92.4 (Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers)
    92.4 (Logging Workers)
    37.5 (Farmers & Ranchers)
    27.6 (Driver/Sales Workers and Truck Drivers)
    23.7 (Construction Laborers)
    19.6 (Misc. Agricultural Workers)

    Of the fatalities for Police/Sheriff’s Patrol Officers, 42% occurred as a result of “highway vehicle incidents.”

    JMJ

  8. A newspaper columnist in San Francisco recently opened a bank account and reported that one of the questions that was asked of her was “what is your monthly rent?” She objected, asking why she had to tell them that. “Patriot Act,” the cubicle drone answered immediately.

    I opened a bank account in Minnesota yesterday and no one asked me anything about my living arrangements or what they cost me. Should I turn the bank in for violating the Patriot Act?

    I agree the cops are pretty fearful of assassination nowadays. They know people hate them, but do they know why?

  9. The Patriot Act also forbids the recording by any means electronic or mechanical of donut-eating. Because the terrorists could discover where cops, you know, eat their donuts and, um…laugh at them.

  10. I want to videotape cops driving without seat belts on, then walk into the station and file a complaint against each cop caught breaking the law. Maybe build a website http://www.unbuckledcops.com and upload the videos. Think I would win any popularity contests?

  11. I agree the cops are pretty fearful of assassination nowadays. They know people hate them, but do they know why?

    I’m guessin’ rap lyrics.

  12. http://www.unbuckledcops.com

    Sounds kinky. I say make it a subscription site.

  13. Just another useful reminder that the law doesn’t really exist until you can make your way into a courtroom, and sometimes even not then.

  14. I want to videotape cops driving without seat belts on, then walk into the station and file a complaint against each cop caught breaking the law.

    And if you’re REAL lucky, you just might catch them running a red light, too.

  15. Meh.

    The incantation of the magic words by a cop does not make the Patriot Act any more or less reasonable/scary/whatever. These same cops simply used different incantations in prior years.

    I also don’t care if cops speed, refuse to wear seatbelts, or park illegally. It’s just a perquisite of the job. Airline pilots get free tickets for their families.

    If a cop is parked illegally, that just means one more legal spot for me.

  16. Well, bubba, do the perks of being a cop include free blowjobs from hookers, jamming broomhandles up the asses of inmates, nicking stuff from the impound lot or evidence room, and planting guns and drugs on folks they just know must be guilty of something?

    I’m curious about what illegal behavior is a perk of being a cop, and what isn’t, and how you can tell the two apart.

  17. If a cop is parked illegally, that just means one more legal spot for me.

    Yeah, well, there kinda weren’t any to begin with, bubba…now we just have to deal with their cars blocking the sidewalk too.

  18. “the terrorists could discover where cops, you know, eat their donuts and, um…laugh at them.”

    Or they might laugh at stuff like this.

  19. Taking pictures of cops not wearing seatbelts? Penny ante.

    Go take movies of the folks who passed the Patriot Act and see how long you last. Probably won’t need more than a four-hour tape.

  20. Would that “bubba” happen to be “Jersy Bubba”?

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