A one way street

A lot of news came out shortly after I wrote about a town’s plan to deploy cell phone trackers to keep nonresidents out. The New York Times told me it was even easier than I thought. Instead of buying hardware, police can use an online tracking service. A tracking service vulnerable to hackers, according to Motherboard.

The Washington Post ran an article on the database of license plate movements kept by repo men. The database is for sale. Another company can identify your car without seeing its plate.

In the 1990s the FBI director promised Congress that the government wouldn’t abuse a law requiring cell phones to report their location. He was lying, of course. Government tracking is totally routine. As the Supreme Court finally decides whether a warrant is required to track a cell phone, the point is already moot. Technology has raced ahead. Your location information is sold by your carrier, bundled with other information, and resold.

Securus, the company profiled by the Times and called insecure by Motherboard, is one buyer of that data. Anybody who claims to be law enforcement can track a cell phone with their service. Just don’t be stupid about who you target.

Remember when Senator Obama’s passport information was accessed? Alarms went off and some government employees got in trouble. Accessing a VIP’s records gets you noticed. The Times article leads with the story of a Missouri sheriff who tracked a judge and Highway Patrol officer. He’s probably going to federal prison.

Police will tell you there’s no privacy interest in your driving. What about theirs? When Massachusetts turned on GPS tracking in police cruisers, that was an unfair labor practice. Showing up to work costs extra. One rule for them, another for us.

Because watching people changes their behavior. Massachusetts State Police fear an hour’s work for an hour’s pay. Ordinary people become afraid to be nonconformists.

People who make policy are relatively safe from snooping. You are not. The system has decided that the usual remedy for government misconduct is to let you out of jail early if your motion to suppress is granted. If you’re not in jail, just being stalked… too bad.

Glenn Greenwald refers to this as a one way mirror. I think of it as a one way street we need to turn back into a two way street. It’s a lot more important to be able to watch the government than it is to let the government watch us. There’s a lot to be learned by watching the government. Not just learning where the speed traps are. When a Redflex lobbyist hands over a bag of money to a city official, these databases can put them at the same place at the same time. What do government employees do all day? If somebody has a no-show job, there’s a record of that. And if we find nothing because they’re scared straight, that’s good too.

Many rules have the effect of keeping honest people honest. It’s been said that the main effect of classifying government information is to keep it out of the hands of the American people. Our enemies can get it, especially now that the NSA no longer understands information security.

I think we’re going to see more of that in the wake of these revelations. The government is not going to shut down any database it has access to. They are addicted to the flow of information about us. Lawmakers are likely to work harder to keep us from getting information about them.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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