Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fourth Amendment v. Vehicle Tracking Technology

When I was driving a cab in San Francisco I refused to fill out the trip sheet recording pickup and destination on the constitutional theory that if everybody took a cab everyday, the government could not force us to keep track of where everybody goes...
...figuring that was the killer argument -- in truth I was just too lazy but figured the killer argument would perfectly defend me if I ever got ticketed ("drop it because if you lose with me, you will lose with everybody").

I even wrote to the city council about this, explaining that if I pick somebody up in front of any business they did not wish to be associated with (gay nightclub for the closeted, etc.) and dropped them off in front of their suburban home, and the police had access to that info (since GPS started tracking cab movements that info is permanently preserved on computer), such persons might fear to complain about police or anybody the police worked for.

Councilman (Supervisor) Tom Ammiano actually emailed me back to call him on the phone about it but by that time I was back in Chicago.

Given the ease with which modern equipment sucks in pictures, plates and GPS recordings the only way to protect Fourth Amendment privacy may be to require a judge's order (a warrant) for any police look at so much as a taxi trip sheet. You might even need to place vehicle plate tracking under private auspices -- alarming readouts that might betray terrorist activity (whatever that might be) to be drawn to police attention when circumstances indicated.

Abuse of close relationship with private entities would surely be invited but at an orders of magnitude lesser scale than that invited when police have unchecked access. That way police would also face some kind of penalty if caught taking advantage. With human nature all you can do is keep abuse to a minimum.

I'm normally no big lefty on surveillance. I usually have the attitude towards illegal wiretaps of Mafia and drug dealers that took place in the 60s and 70s that nobody ever died of a little illegal surveillance; but, wholesale info on all citizen movements should definitely not be available at will to the government.

Posted by: Denis Drew | Link to comment | August 21, 2008 at 06:29 AM

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