Civil Liberties

Watching the Detectors

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New York City is considering a law that would make it illegal to detect toxins without a permit. What kind of toxins? Well, just about all of them.

And it's not just devices to detect weaponized anthrax that they want the power to control, but those that detect everything from industrial pollutants to asbestos in shoddy apartments. Want to test for pollution in low-income neighborhoods with high rates of childhood asthma? Gotta ask the cops for permission. Why? So you "will not lead to excessive false alarms and unwarranted anxiety," the first draft of the law states.

[…]

Dozens of university researchers, public-health professionals, and environmental lawyers sat in the crowd, horrified by the prospect that if this law passes, their work detecting and warning the public about airborne pollutants will become next to impossible. But Falkenrath pressed on, saying that unless the police can determine who gets to look for nasty stuff floating in the air, the city would be paralyzed by fear.

Never mind that such a false alarm triggered by faulty, privately-owned, unlicensed "detectors" has never happened. And the notion of forcing watchdog groups to get permission from the government before attempting to determine if what in many cases is government pollution is pretty farcical. Objectors rightly brought up Ground Zero, where the EPA and city officials assured rescue workers the air was safe, only to retract those assurances five years and several untimely deaths and serious illnesses later.

When the Environmental Protection Agency promised that the air surrounding Ground Zero was safe, Vallone said, independent testers proved that such assurances were utterly false. Would these groups really have to get a permit before they started working? "It's a good question, and it has come up prior to this hearing," Falkenrath replied. "What I can assure you is that we will look extremely carefully at this issue of the independent groups, and get the opinion of the other city agencies on how to handle that, and craft an appropriate response." And if people use these detectors without a permit, Vallone asked, do we really have to put them in jail? Afraid so, Falkenrath answered.

Sometimes we need to be saved from the people who would save us.

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  1. C’mon, we all know triggering “excessive false alarms and unwarranted anxiety” is the government’s job.

  2. WTF? What’s the real reason for this abortion of a law? There has to be something sinister here.

  3. The real reason is that Mikey is a fucking control freak who thinks he can do shit like this or try and frame gun stores in other states. When you have a guy who doesn’t think his authority should end even at the borders of the jurisdiction he was elected for, you have a problem.

    Yes, this applies to Bush as well.

  4. New York is just pissed that Chicago might be surpassing them in nanny-laws, so Mr. Fuckberg feels the need to step it up a bit.

    Maybe he’s just trying to decrease the surplus population in NY?

  5. If their goal was what they claim, wouldn’t they just implement accuracy standards for the devices?

  6. Will Radley have to register his BS detector if this law passes?

  7. Having not RTFA, I wonder if this ban would include particulate and gaseous toxins monitored in the house. In short, would it be illegal to have a plug-in smoke, carbon monoxide or radon detector in your house? Would you have to hire a “licensed” detector to hold a smoke detecting apparatus while you sleep at night?

  8. unless the police can determine who gets to look for nasty stuff floating in the air, the city would be paralyzed by fear.

    The city needs to protect its status as monopoly fear-monger.

    [insert “phoney-baloney jobs” quote]

  9. Ok, this is just getting silly

  10. adding that this law was suggested by officials within the Department of Homeland Security

    If this is true we’ll see outbreaks of this idiocy everywhere. NYC officials were just the first to go for it. Pols love the glory of putting “first in the nation” in their press releases.

  11. Will the people be allowed to keep their smoke detectors or will they have to pony-up for a license?

  12. Oh, and an Elvis Costello reference, Radley? Who do you think you are–Weigel?

  13. You can keep your smoke detector, but if there’s a fire and you live you’re going to jail.

  14. The Inner Party cares for you. Now return to your prolefeed…..

  15. Sometimes we need to be saved from the people who would save us.

    Sometimes..?

  16. There more I come here, the less I understand this silly world of ours.

  17. Any city that wants to pass this law should simultaneously pass a law forbidding the city from operating Mooninite detectors.

  18. What about canaries? Migraineurs? Asthmatics? Will they need licenses, too?

  19. WTF? What’s the real reason for this abortion of a law? There has to be something sinister here.

    Acclimating Americans to the “if it’s not compulsory it’s forbidden” line of thought.

  20. WTF? What’s the real reason for this abortion of a law? There has to be something sinister here.

    *Dons tinfoil hat*

    Could be that NYC is slated to be the testing ground for some crazy weaponized aerosol or something. Can’t have folks detecting unsafe levels of that crap.

  21. ::places “Never move to NYC” note on top of last week’s “Never move to NYC” note::

  22. Didn’t John Peter Zenger kick a New York governor’s ass in court over the notion that it’s all right to print the truth? I know that’s ancient history, but isn’t it still relevant?

  23. NYC licenses just about everyone who would work in your house or on your property. Plumbing, electrical, painters, construction companies, ect. This is par for NYC. Hell, you can get arrested if you fail to present your drivers license or ID.

    I heard a rumor that the massage therapist that found Heath Ledger was arrested for not having a license. I haven’t seen anything about that yet. You club/bar has to have a license for people to dance.

    “””Could be that NYC is slated to be the testing ground for some crazy weaponized aerosol or something. Can’t have folks detecting unsafe levels of that crap.”””

    Like that brown fog that was around for a couple of weeks after 9/11? We can’t have a citizen testing the air after the EPA says it’s OK.

    It’s really just another way for Bloomberg to tax a type of worker.

  24. Well, remember – numerous drug laws and weapons laws are implicitly laws against knowledge.

    With the right skill set, one can weaponize many things. A gun is metal and wood and some chemicals to make an accelerant when you get right down to it. Drugs are chemicals arranged in the right way.

    So we have already created laws that said that some people can perform certain scientific acts and others can’t. Why not this too? If it’s convenient for some end of the state, who cares if you object?

  25. “””Will the people be allowed to keep their smoke detectors or will they have to pony-up for a license?”””

    Household smoke and carbon monoxide detectors will be excluded. I think that’s a safe bet.

    carbon monoxide detectors are required in NYC. In case I leave the car running when I accidently drive a car up the four flights of stairs and into my apartment. 😉

  26. Will Radley have to register his BS detector if this law passes?

    No. BS detectors are useless in NYC because they’re always pegged. Now if he had a detector that would sound off when a politician is telling the truth, that might be worth registering. But they wouldn’t.

    Ya’know, it’s getting real hard to write satire when the government is this hard to top.

  27. I’m not sure where you could calibrate a BS detector. Maybe inside an anti-BS box.

    I’m going to make a guess that the purpose of the license is to ensure some level of quality. NYC is land of the hustlers, people would show up with a box, walk around, say it’s safe, and charge you. The not so funny joke is that the box doesn’t do anything, but how would you know? Crap like that happens all the time here. Sure a licensed person could scam you too, but he would lose the privilage to work in that field.

  28. If their goal was what they claim, wouldn’t they just implement accuracy standards for the devices?

    Even accuracy standards could be used in abusive ways:

    “We aren’t in any way preventing envoirnmental activists from measuring toxins. We are simply requiring that they use devices that meet minimum standards. (Of course, the standards might drive up the cost of the device from $1,000.00 a piece, to $100,000.00 a piece, but we know that price difference won’t effect the efforts of non-profit community activists like yourself!)”

    But if you keep suggesting that elected officials might be passing laws for reasons other than the best interests of the people that elected them… you are getting dangerously close to libertarian thinking. They might revoke your “liberal” card if you aren’t careful.

  29. Actually, it also strikes me that this is a lot like the “hormone free milk” labelling dispute.

    New York City can in one sense be looked at as a competitor of other cities and geographic locations. Those other cities could potentially compete with New York by talking about New York’s air quality. New York therefore wishes to make it illegal to compete on that basis.

    Like the dairy regulators, New York is self-interestedly deciding that there is a level of air quality that consumers shouldn’t care about, and that a device which informs consumers about air quality defects below that detectability level are “fear mongering”, and therefore making it impossible to tell consumers about it.

  30. Hmmm…smoke & CO detectors are FDNY’s turf, detectors of everything else (intruders, etc.) are NYPD’s turf. Gotta be something to that.

  31. “NYC is land of the hustlers, people would show up with a box, walk around, say it’s safe, and charge you.”

    Come on, don’t give us this crap. There are plenty of very reasonable laws that already cover exactly this sort of thing. And this law would prevent you from having a detector, whether or not you charged people or even told people what the results were.

    It’s obvious what this is. The city got caught lying about the air quality after 9/11 — rather than jail the people who endangered the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and almost certainly cost some people their lives though we will never know who, the government is going to make sure we never get a chance to catch them lying that way again.

    I’m not the libertarians a lot of you here are — I think you can accomplish things with laws, and growing up as a sickly kid under socialized medicine has given me a lot of appreciation for its virtues.

    But garbage like this proposed law is something I can agree whole-heartedly with even the most reactionary of you in condemning!

  32. What mush-for-brains came up with this? Even from the viewpoint of a Good Liberal, this makes no sense.

    Checks and balances, guys, checks and balances. We need those goddamn independent testers.

  33. “”””Come on, don’t give us this crap. There are plenty of very reasonable laws that already cover exactly this sort of thing. And this law would prevent you from having a detector, whether or not you charged people or even told people what the results were.”””

    I live in Manhattan, scams are in the news frequently. The law will not prevent a resident from having the city mandated smoke and CO detectors. City law requires us to have those, I sincerely doubt the law in question will affect that requirement.

  34. Conservatives are whack jobs.

  35. This is exactly the kind of law we should totally ignore. In fact, the only way to respond to this is to let the law pass and then go out and detect hazardous pollutants and report about them freely and without a care in the world.

    Of course, the person doing the detection is then going to be dragged in a court of law. In that place they should go to great lengths extolling their disdain for the law, certainly for this law, and tell the judge that when they are released from government custody, they will go right back to monitoring air quality and reporting on it.

    It is the public’s responsibility to make sure that government acts in the best interests of the public and not in the best interest of the government. It is the governed who need to demand good governance.

    If the governed don’t demand good governance, why would the government care to provide it?

    This proposition is a sham, it should be exposed as a sham and nobody should be intimidated by it. And when the inevitable court case comes along, wear any conviction as a badge of honor. A bad law should not be obeyed, just as an unlawful order [irony, how I love thee] should not be obeyed.

    In this case it is not the law breaker who shows contempt for the law, it is the government displaying sneering contempt for the safety of the people. And isn’t this whole madhouse exactly what the government is passing all these draconian, Constitution destroying laws about? To protect the public?

    It’s 6:30 AM, it’s just about time for a good old-fashioned revolution in the US.

  36. Be a rebel, detect hazardous pollutants.

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