Sandusky: To spy or not to spy

Some residents outraged; city commissioners talk about police cruiser cameras that feed data to federal government
Andy Ouriel
Jul 24, 2013

A Register story on Sunday reported the federal spying program's ties to the city. Through two cameras mounted on a Sandusky police cruiser's trunk, the device logs license plate numbers and transmits the data to an organization affiliated with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It has been in place since mid-November.

At a public meeting Monday, a contingent of local residents — led by city commissioner Diedre Cole — have harshly criticized use of the device.

Cole's comments centered on two points: The cameras are an invasion of privacy, and they provide no benefit to local residents or police officers.

"The public has a right to know that while you are sleeping, the police department is traversing the streets of Sandusky with a vehicle that captures your license plates and transmits that data to Homeland Security," Cole said. "Residents need to be made aware that this technology will allow a blueprint of your life to be accessed by officers scanning your license plate."

Sandusky police Chief John Orzech said the the device can might be useful to assist officers tracking down stolen vehicles.

Orzech said the data compiled from scanning license plates is indeed stored by Homeland Security, but he doesn't know how the data is used or maintained.

Among the other problems:

•The license late scanners haven't aided local officers in solving any crimes thus far. "We haven't really done anything with it," Orzech said. "It's really hit or miss."

•The devices don't perform certain functions that were promised.

Case in point: The devices don't connect to a state system that law enforcement officers use to look up crime and court records. The pitfalls of the technology actually convinced Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth to remove four similar cameras that were previously placed on cruisers at his department.

The sheriff's employees removed the mounted cameras and asked federal officials to pick up the equipment about a year ago.

"They're still here, in the boxes, waiting to be picked up," Sigsworth said.

The American Civil Liberties Union was first to address this issue of the federal government funding license plate readers. In a report issued earlier this month, "You are being tracked," the civil rights group called it a dangerous trend in American cities. 

“More and more cameras, longer retention periods, and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives,” the report states. “The knowledge that one is subject to constant monitoring can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and association.”

On Monday, after reading the Register story, local residents showed up at City Hall to lambast the federal government's monitoring program and its implications locally, too. 

"I am one of the community members who feel uncomfortable with this," Mills Street resident Dan Leavell said. "I feel that law enforcement has plenty of tools in their arsenal in order to apprehend someone who is breaking the law. I see this as another step in the invasion of an individual's privacy."

Orzech said he will remove the cameras if people don't want them.

"If you want them off the car, we'll take them off," Orzech said. "It doesn't make a difference to me."

Count Fifth Street resident Sharon Johnson among the people demanding officials remove the cameras.

"If Erie County dismantled their readers, I don't see why Sandusky can't dismantle them too," Johnson said. "We are getting too complacent about our privacy."

Helpful or harmful?

Commissioner Keith Grohe spoke in favor of the cameras.

"If you have a (smartphone), that same information goes all over the place," Grohe said. "Also with Twitter, Facebook, where you shop if you have a debit or credit card. You have to admit that in today's world we are tracked all over the place."

Cole slammed Grohe's opinion.

"That's all by choice," Cole said. "Whether I have a smartphone or use my Kroger Card is my choice. Whether (police) use a car and scan my tag is not my choice."

Smith then argued with Cole, pointing out that license plates and the streets people drive on are public.

Cole quickly countered the point.

"My concern is what information is public," Cole said. "If you visit a particular doctor and then go to Sunday school and then a political rally at night and then visit a particular bank or mosque, all of those data points can be collected and assembled into a virtual blueprint of your life. 

"I would like to know if there is a way that we can reasonably come up with an analysis of how valuable this technology is to us," Cole said. 

City commissioner Wes Poole said he's not overly worried about the cameras, but he's concerned that city officials — namely city manager Nicole Ard — failed to inform him of what the cameras can do.

"I do have some concerns about staff presenting information to us," Poole said. "You left me with the impression you would be obtaining a tool that was going to be a value to the city. When you don't have the information and I have to make a decision, I must then live with the unintended consequences."

City commissioners said they'll continue to discuss the status of the cameras at upcoming public meetings.

 

Friendly chatter

The Register asked some of its Facebook friends for their opinions on the two cameras mounted on a Sandusky police cruiser. The cameras are capable of scanning a license plate number and sending information on a motorist's whereabouts to the federal government:

• Sandee Micheletti: Not a criminal, so it's fine by me.

• Janice Rogers Parker: I don't feel they should.

• Connie Slaughter: I don't think it's right. What is the reason for this? I'm not a criminal.

• Josephine Horne: I think it's wrong. Just like the government listening to our calls.

• Mike Lugtig: They already have our address. That's good enough. I mean, let's just line up so they can put a GPS in all of us.

• Andy Bauman: Criminal or not, you are entitled to a level of privacy inherent in the Fourth Amendment. This isn't a matter of whether you or I are criminals but that those in authoritative positions are unashamedly committing criminal acts.

• Chuck Miller: We no longer live in a free country. Canada here I come.

• DeeJay Graves: Complete invasion of privacy and overstepping of boundaries.

• Brandi Jurek: It's wrong.

• Kelly Groves Scott: Doesn't bother me even the teeniest, tiniest bit.

• Kari Miller: No. Only if they were on the lookout for a specific person should this be enabled. For example, searching for a runway or escaped (person). But once that technology is there, I'm sure the government would use it.

• Matt Keegan: What does the federal government need to know about my whereabouts for? Why are public servants paid by my tax dollars given the OK to do this? This is not OK.

• Jason Lutz: I got nothing to hide, but I still don't think ti's right that the government knows what I'm doing all the time. They should have better things to do than know I'm at Walmart and going to smash on some Red Lobster for dinner.

• Joe Artino: Doesn't matter. Look at Google Earth. You think that's the only satellite photos or videos being taken of us? I don't think so. So (the cameras on) the back of an SPD car is minor compared to what else is going on we don't even know about.

• Tim Smith: I love my country but fear my government.

• Kelly Netherland Gillespie: It shouldn't matter if you have anything to hide or not. IT is a totally unnecessary invasion of privacy, and it' sonly going to get worse. Did we forget they are public officials meant to serve the public? Why are we so willing to give up our liberties?

Comments

Justme...

Harassing citizens for taking pictures is certainly wrong, but that doesn't make the government taking pictures wrong. One has nothing to do with the other. I do get your point, sort of. But the issue is not the taking of pictures in your example, or the piecing together of pictures, neither of which can deemed illegal. The issue becomes jumping to an incorrect conclusion. So citizens can take pictures of license plates the the government can't. It doesn't makes sense.

The Big Dog's back

sam is all for private entities getting her info.

SamAdams

You can stop saying that any time now. I've REPEATEDLY gone on record as stating I don't support private entities (in other words, corporations) collecting personal data either. I've ALSO repeatedly said that I take precautions (and undergo a certain amount of inconvenience) to minimize that collection.

It is NOT okay with me for corporations to collect my private data without my knowledge and consent. It is ALSO not okay with me for the government do collect my private data without a warrant.

You and I disagree on plenty of things without you making crap up, you know...

Nemesis

Justme...How is taking a picture of your license plate while you are in public an invasion of privacy?

In and of itself, it's not. However, they drive around, all day long, scanning every plate within sight, then all those scans, with time and location, go into a huge federal database. It effectively becomes a map of your movements. They can tell what meetings you attend, who you visit, etc. Ever hear of Senator Joe McCarthy, or the House Committee for Unamerican Activities? Most of the people they subpoenaed were chosen on the basis of having attended political meetings while in college. Ever hear of J. Edgar Hoover's files, and their role in his maintenance of a power base built on blackmail? Those files contained a lot of this sort of metadata. For those who say "this is the USA, that sort of stuff won't happen here," note that the two examples given are instances where it ALREADY happened here. A historian used an analysis of this sort of metadata from over 200 years ago to find out who were the REAL key players in the buildup to the American Revolution, i.e. who the British could have prevented the revolution by arresting.

Justme...

Following people and determining where they go is not illegal, nor should it be. I can do it, you can do it, the government can do it. Its a free country, remember? Making incorrect judgements about people based on the legally collected information is where the problem lies. So are you saying it will be legal for me to photograph license plates - as many as as I want all day long, however I want, but not the government?? Or should it be illegal for me as well? What should have been illegal to prevent the McMarthy hearings? Following people around? How can you make that illegal?

Nemesis

The Constitution is a document which constrains only what government may do, so yes, there are many things you can do which the government may not. I can place a GPS tracking device on my teenager's car, but the government may not without a warrant.

No one is objecting to the scanning per se, but rather to the assembly of Hoover-style dossiers of our movements and associations. The 4th Amendment gives us the right to keep the government out of our business.

Justme...

First of all, you can place a GPS tracking device on your teenager's car because you are his/her parent. You certainly can't place a GPS tracking device on your neighbor's teenager's car. So that's an invalid analagy. You have the right to keep the government out of your business, but when you are in public, the government has the right to photograph your license plate, and yes, assemble your movements. A private PI has the right to do the same thing, doesn't he? How is it different? The government is US and "it" has the same rights as us. You cannot be serious in that it is against the constitution for the government to know what our public movements are.

Nemesis

A private PI is not, in legal terms, what is known as a "state actor." That is why PI's can gather evidence in ways that, if a state actor did so, would violate the 4th Amendment. There are many differences between private and state actors with regard to Constitutional rights. The Register can censor our comments, and the First Amendment is not implicated, because it is a private entity. The Boy Scouts can refuse to admit atheists, because they are a private entity. Private entities are not bound by the First Amendment. The Sandusky Mall can prohibit carrying weapons on their property because private entities are not bound by the 2nd Amendment. Private entities can also track and follow you because they are not bound by the Fourth Amendment or the precedential right to privacy established in Roe v. Wade.

Actually, I probably can legally place a GPS tracker on my neighbor's teenager's car, if I do so without trespassing. I can follow my neighbor - note that numerous legal experts have pointed out that George Zimmerman broke no laws by following Trayvon.

Your Constitutional rights are restrictions on what government may do, not on what private actors may do.

Roe v. Wade is premised entirely on the right to privacy, i.e., it's none of the government's business if someone gets an abortion. Now, if the government has a dossier on a person's comings and goings showing that they made two visits to an abortion clinic, how is that right honored? We also have a federal Privacy Act which limits the information the government can gather and retain about you.

tk

If the Feds are passing out this equipment then obviously the Feds have a use for it. Somebody wasn't thinking when they accepted this if they didn't expect it to be used. It doesn't bother me. If I am driving on public roads, I expect to be seen by numerous people.

Justme...

EXACTLY.

Peninsula Pundit

It is much like in the book, 'Atlas Shrugged'.
More things we do are being criminalized.
If you jump off the local bridge, like we used to when we were kids, it is now 'Inducing Panic'.
Maybe LE thinks that's an open beer in your boat?
Well, they'll hop on over and rouse you up a bit.
A Canadian swam across the Dertoit River and was halfway back to Canada before the CG/Border Patrol/Homeland Security/Immigration Service/Luftwaffe, et al, caught up with him.
Now, he didn't call for help, but since the 'authorities' found him, he's now up for fines and patriotic folks calling for him to pay for keeping helicopters in the air.
Well, these cameras are part of the big boys game.
If I as an American Citizen can tell them to get lost, I will.
I really do prefer to live the Liberty my forebears fought for.
Not this police-state version being made so popular these days.

shucks

Ayn Rand was a sociopath

S w Rand 2016

I wouldn't know. I have not extensively researched her. I wonder if you have.

The book is, nevertheless, an adventure and also inspiring.

shucks

I wouldn't know. I have not extensively researched her.
............You have or you haven't ?

I wonder if you have.
............I know enough. Should I look for a loophole?

The book is, nevertheless, an adventure and also inspiring.
.............for people who admire sociopaths.

S w Rand 2016

Have or haven't what? I am saying that I would not know enough about the woman to make the sweeping allegations that you are making.
In fact, I haven't even read the book yet. I saw Part 1 and Part 2 of the movie. Eagerly awaiting the final part of the trilogy.

Contango

"Atlas Shrugged" is history - we are living it.

"Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them" - "Atlas Shrugged."

Ms. Rand was educated in the Soviet Union.

She understood totalitarianism; American useful idiots do not and will pay greatly for the consequences of their ignorance.

The Big Dog's back

She's still a sociopath.

Nemesis

1. On what basis? That's a medical diagnosis - are you a qualified to make it? I doubt it.

2. So what? In this country, one has the right to be a sociopath, as long as one does not violate the rights of others. Most sociopaths are brilliant. Your assertion says nothing about the value of her work. Are you familiar with the term ad hominem?

milemarkerzero

I can't understand the big hoopla over these cameras. They have been used by LE for years, especially on state and US routes. Unless that camera crawls up a ladder and takes a picture of you in your bedroom, it is legal. If your a law abiding citizen, you need not worry. I say put them on all the cars.

FlyBoy86

Now I know how my grandparents felt when police officers were outfitted with radios instead of having to go to gamewells. We survived then, we'll survive now.

Justme...

Yep, I agree! Technology will always help law enforcement, and sometimes it will be misused. But let's focus on the misuse rather than the use.

Minuteman

There are so many things keeping track of us over the past 10 years. It won't make much difference if they all were turned off tomorrow, the database on each person is already well populated. Only those who have found a way to stay under the radar will garner attention. So, the regular person has nothing to worry about, there are 300 million just like you. It's the oddballs that will be scrutinized.

shucks

"There are so many things keeping track of us over the past 10 years. "

................Very true! Take for example satellite photography.
I'm sure that a satellite could discern fly poop from a period on your newspaper.

OH-IO

Watch him. Watch this SamAdams. His paranoia will cause him to do something very foolish one day. If you don't have anything to hide then don't worry about it. Unless you have child porn, planning a murder or embezzling activities. In that case I want them to catch you. I have nothing to hide.

S w Rand 2016

I'd think it a better use of resources to watch people like you, OH-IO. People who are always ready to point a finger at a neighbor. People who end up getting so nervous that they start talking like you, to others, about their neighbor in order to get people to attack their neighbor.

Your comment (to which I am replying) reminded me of that Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street." I was thinking of the original black and white version but YouTube doesn't seem to have it. I found a link for the more recent re-make, tho. So far, it seems like it will illustrate my point much better.

S w Rand 2016

"The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" (the more recent version)
Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=...
Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=...

The Big Dog's back

Easy rand. Put the lithium down.

Centauri

"The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street." I was thinking of the original black and white version but YouTube doesn't seem to have it."

Try these:
http://www.hulu.com/#!watch/440892

http://vimeo.com/63670863

Centauri

Those who want the government to take over our freedoms will soon be "obsolete" as the Chancellor (Fritz Weaver)found out toward the end of the movie.

http://vimeo.com/15365268
The Obsolete Man

SamAdams

Maybe you should apply for a job with Homeland Security. They, too, think that anybody who supports the Constitution and/or criticizes the government is a threat. Given that that's the ONLY thing I'm guilty of, I'll accept the blame for that much with pride.

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