Thursday, August 14, 2008

Recent Developments in Spatial Law

Rick Crowsey, of Crowsey Incorporated, forwarded me this article from the Washington Post on the increased use of GPS devices by law enforcement in Virginia. (The article notes that the Supreme Court has not ruled directly on the use of GPS devices by law enforcement without a warrant - although it has ruled that the use of tracking devices without one is permissible - but that other jurisdictions that have ruled on such uses of GPS devices are split.

The article raises a number of good points. I particularly liked this quote attributed to Craig Fraser of the Police Executive Research Forum: "The issue is whether the more sophisticated tools are doing the same things we used to do or are creating a different set of legal circumstances". I also noted that there is a poll question that is attached to the article. At this time, of approximately two respondents, 51% found the increased use of GPS to be a troubling trend while 42% found it to be a welcome step against crime.

New York City is going even further according to this report. According to the report, license plates of all cars and trucks entering Manhattan will be scanned and stored in databases (for upwards of a month.) The city also intends to add thousands more security cameras in Lower Manhattan as well as radiation detection devices to be used in a buffer zone around the city.

Thanks to Kara John of DMTI Spatial for forwarding me the recently completed version 2 of "The Dissemination of Government Geographic Data in Canada: Guide To Best Practices." It is a product of the GeoConnections Program and is the work of the Data Licensing Guide Working Group of which Kara and many others put in a good deal of effort. I am sure that the report will be posted on the GeoConnections website - I know that version 1 is available online - but feel free to contact me if you wish me to forward you a copy. It is an excellent resource for anyone working on spatial law issues, not simply for those working in Canada.

1 comment:

ShavesWithOccamsRazor said...

Kevin, the issue of whether current computer/technology-assisted practices are the same as enforcement activities in the past (e.g., data mining versus people surveillance) is a non-issue. What is being done currently with spatial technologies and data mining is in a different galaxy from surveillance practices of the past.

One aspect that's particularly troubling is the use of spatial technologies and data mining to search for individuals who "might" be a threat. A second troubling aspect is the lack of transparency and vetting these tools and methods receive. Until recently, DNA evidence was thought to be able to ID every individual on the planet. Recently it's been shown, to the chagrin of the FBI, that DNA may not be as unique as once thought. What's been the government's response? Rather than research the issue and publish their findings, they are doing their best to keep this information from the public and from defense attorneys who might use it to defend innocent people.

The air travel watch list is another example of how these things get out of hand. Reporters who question the TSA suddenly appear on the watch list, now grown to over 1,000,000 names. Apparently it's nearly impossible to find out if you're on the watch list or to make corrections if you've been put on by mistake. Does anyone really think that 1 out of 300 people in the U.S. are a terrorist threat? And if not, why can't we fix this list?

I don't have a beef with the technology, but the secret and unauthorized use of it by the government directed towards citizens who are otherwise minding their own business is a disaster waiting to happen. Or maybe it has already happened and we just don't know about it yet.

It'd be great if we could have a reasoned discussion about the use of technology that enables collection and analysis of personal information, whether it be photographing license plates of all vehicles entering Manhattan or civilian Predator unmaned aircraft over Houston or collection of location using GPS devices, cell phones, RFID technology or library borrowing records. Often those who questions the uses and applications of these clever technologies, especially by the government, is labeled an extremist and a danger to the country.

The important question isn't what amazing things can we do with current technology, it's what should and shouldn't the government be allowed to do with current technology directed towards citizens.