FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Smile, You’re On Federal Camera

by JAMES PLUMMER

The federal government owns one-third of the land in the country and half of the land west of the Mississippi. And as far as the Beltway bureaucrats are concerned, we have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” on any of it. To prove they’re serious, they’ve begun to piece together a near-all-encompassing surveillance dragnet in the Washington, DC area. And according to a report recently issued by the General Accounting Office the federal agencies have failed to demonstrate their cameras do anything to stop evildoers and have been lax in responding to Congressional oversight concerns about the cameras’ effect on privacy.

The GAO report focused on the use of cameras by two agencies, the National Park Service and the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC) and the United States Park Police. MPDC told GAO that their cameras were geared to fight crime, particularly, but not solely, during demonstrations and whenever the Homeland declares CODE ORANGE. MPDC has 14 cameras of their own, but can access real-time video from other DC agencies including the public schools as well as “certain private entities.” MPDC has a written set of regulations that restrict camera operators from focusing in on faces or print, but GAO also pointed out that there is no clear training regimen for the camera operators to make sure these restrictions are followed. MPDC has yet to develop any evidence that the camera systems actually reduce crime.

The United States Park Police also have cameras in and around the nation’s capital and they are far more secretive than MPDC about how, when and where they are used. Park Police claim that their cameras are chiefly to fight “terrorism” instead of “crime.” The Park Police will not divulge where any of their cameras are, and has not yet issued final regulations on their use that were due a year ago. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, however has recently obtained the draft version of these regulations. Those regulations call for the spycams to tape everything they see “twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week” and leave open the door to use of face-recognition software and the use of images from the cameras in civil as well as criminal proceedings.

This “no reasonable expectation of privacy” policy vis-à-vis government surveillance on public lands is unfortunately not limited to the monuments inside the District. Cameras and microphones can turn up in the oddest places — for instance, one man in Nevada recently had a six carloads of a federal Joint Terrorism Task Force search his home after he pointed out military sensors on public land to some reporters. The number of cameras keep increasing despite GAO’s finding that neither MPDC nor USPP can prove the cameras actually decrease crime. GAO also points out the spycam operators in the UK haven’t proven such either — but they’re installing precrime software in the cameras there, so maybe that will “help“. Indeed, “no reasonable expectation” is the lowest common denominator when it comes to privacy, especially when the information gathered could be dumped into the Pentagon’s TIA computers. The more land controlled by the federal government — from the middle of the forest to the municipal airport — the less choice citizens, consumers, tourists and travelers have to make among competing privacy tradeoffs. That is a true tragedy of the commons — and breeding ground for privacy villains.

JAMES PLUMMER writes the Privacy Villain of the Week and Privacy Hero of the Month colums for the National Consumer Coalition’s Privacy Group. He ca be reached at: jplummer@consumeralert.org.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andrew Tillett-Saks
Labor’s Political Stockholm Syndrome: Why Unions Must Stop Supporting Democrats Like Clinton
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
 Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
Howard Lisnoff
The Elephant in the Living Room
Pepe Escobar
The Real Secret of the South China Sea
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail