Thursday, February 16, 2012

Your Civil Liberties: It's All Relative

A recent Digby post just excerpted something awful I heard on NPR a while ago. The post provides some extra context if your interested, but here it goes:
SINGER: Already, a couple of [police departments] have gotten special licenses to operate [drones], Miami-Dade, Mesa County in Colorado. When the airspace is opened up, which is scheduled to happen in 2015, that means pretty much every local, state, federal law agency will have this kind of system. The problem is our Constitution, you know, has the concepts of privacy and probable cause. The police aren't supposed to be able to look over your fence to see what you're doing in your backyard unless they have a search warrant, unless they have probable cause. Well, now you have a technology that allows you to always peek over the fence. And so, you know, it really opens up some interesting, interesting questions we're going to have to figure out very soon.
Yes, it's funny how "interesting, interesting questions" arise every time a new gadget (a camera) allows the police to clearly violate your civil liberties. But at least you think that we have to answer those questions very soon, because until then the police can spy on people all they want, and if anyone challenges them they can say the same thing you basically said to the NPR audience: "Well that's an interesting, interesting question, concerned citizen. I'm not a lawyer though, so piss off."
FLATOW: Yeah, let's go to our next call from Isaac(ph) in Truckee, California. Hi, Isaac. ... ISAAC: Well, I've been dreaming for like 15 years of doing aerial photography with remote-controlled helicopters, and I've gotten to the point now where I can. And I heard the point about the invasion-of-privacy thing, and as far as I know, there's laws against invasion of privacy anyhow. I mean, if I was to put a camera on a long pole, stick it up in somebody's window, wouldn't that be the same thing as putting it on a helicopter? I mean, the laws are already there, right?
Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! Sexy Lady Gameshow Mascot, tell our caller what he's won! Sexy Lady Gameshow Mascot: Well! For his exceptional powers of common sense, Isaac wins an appointment to the United States District Court of Central California!
FLATOW: Good question. Anybody answer that? CUMMINGS: Well, I can... FLATOW: Go ahead, Missy, (unintelligible). CUMMINGS: Well, you know, because I'm challenged almost every day. I know my students are trying to fly around my window and spy on me. So it's something I actually have to lower my blinds for. And, you know, the question is - and this is why we need to raise it to this level of debate - I can put - my students could put a vehicle outside my window and have a zoom lens, and they could have it maybe 20 feet or 40 feet or 100 feet away. And so what point then do - are you intruding on someone's privacy? Do you have to be right up next to window, or can you have a really long zoom lens? ISAAC: You could have a zoom lens on a stick as well, you know, with some wires coming down to a pair of video goggles. I mean, it's all pretty much relative. If somebody wants to invade your privacy, they're going to do it one way or another, right? CUMMINGS: That's a great insight. FLATOW: So you're saying the law's there already, and it's just up to someone to test it out and see.
I've invented a focused sound gun that I've tested on stray cats, and it makes their ears bleed until they die. I'm marketing it as a dog whistle for cats called "No Kitty!" I've shipped about a thousand units already; it's really taking off... The problem is, there are these animal cruelty laws, but they don't say anything about sound causing bleeding from the ears and stuff. So do I maybe have to stop selling this, or maybe wait until a test case winds its way through the courts? What?
ANDERSON: My sense is that the interpretation of the law has been around the notion of reasonable expectation of privacy, which is that, you know, can you expect to have privacy behind a fence? And, you know, if the case is yes, then, you know, the law tends to protect that. Presumably, as more and more things are flying overhead, that expectation will decline.
Ok, that's what I was hoping. It's become so easy to accidently kill cats these days. It's like every new discipline product that comes on the market causes someone's "little fluffy kitty princess" to bleed from the ears until they die. I mean, I'm sorry your princess is so sensitive, but you know this stuff happens all the time now; you had to expect this type of thing might happen sooner or later.

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