When faced with government demands for privacy related information, many citizens exclaim, “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about.”
That’s why people aren’t generally up in arms about things like automated license plate readers, facial recognition, or even surveillance drones for law enforcement.
“If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about.” But there is one group that is calling for regulation of these technologies because it has something to hide. That is law enforcement.
As both state and federal legislatures and regulators are considering the proper and appropriate use of various technologies, including law enforcement access to email and communications, GPS and other location tracking, facial recognition, automated license plate readers, and other technologies, these law enforcement agencies are lobbying legislators and regulators for less, not more openness.
They are almost universally opposing laws or regulation that would require law enforcement to provide details on how and when they are using the various technologies, against whom they are targeting their efforts, and whether or not these technologies are actually working.
The proposed laws would impose judicial oversight before law enforcement can deploy these privacy-invading technologies – either warrants, or other court orders. Right now, the requirements for deploying privacy invading technologies are all over the map. If the government for example wants to install a GPS device on your car, they need the equivalent of a search warrant, supported by probable cause and specific and articulable facts.
If they want to track your cell phone (for the same purpose) they need a lower standard. And if they want historical cell phone data from the phone company, they don’t need a warrant at all – just a subpoena to the phone company (don’t be mislead by the term “historical” – 5 seconds ago is historical). If they want to deploy “stingray” technology to track your cell phone, they don’t need any kind of order. And to track your license plate or face – nothing. To harmonize these various technologies, legislatures are considering requiring some kind of oversight. The cops want none of that.
Similarly, if the cops search your digital property (even that held by third parties like your ISP, your email provider, your storage provider) you should know about it just as you should know if the cops kick in the door to your home or office. But the police object to that as well. They don’t want people to know what they are doing.
Even if they don’t notify each individual subject of an electronic search, at least they should tell the public and the legislature generally what they are doing and how often. How are they using license plate readers? How long to they keep the data? How effective and useful is it? How often are people held at gunpoint because the license plate reader thought their car was stolen? See http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2014/05/12/11-17892.pdf
But the cops want none of it. They object to a Colorado law requiring a warrant to affix a GPS device even though the Supreme Court already ruled that such a warrant is constitutionally required. The Maine police objected to a proposed law which would require judicial approval in most circumstances to get cell phone location data. They don’t want to be watched.
I kinda know how they feel.