Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.
OPINION – Talk about irony. Steven Powell has just been convicted of spying on and photographing two innocent neighbor girls for his own unnatural satisfaction. And now we learn that members of federal and local law enforcement are expressing a strange interest in scrutinizing every motorist traveling I-15 through Southwest Utah.
It’s telling that many people openly condemn the acts of Steven Powell as an intolerable violation of personal privacy but will turn a blind eye to the state’s voyeuristic ambitions when they are done under the color of law.
On the surface, the proposal from the Drug Enforcement Administration and two local sheriffs sounds quite reasonable. They are seeking the blessing of the Utah legislature to install permanent stationary scanning devices that can read the license plate of every single passing vehicle traveling the I-15 corridor. The idea is being touted as a means of catching kidnappers, drug traffickers and violent criminals. Most people would agree that getting such individuals off the streets would be a positive thing.
But the drawback to this plan is that every motorist, including those who are not suspected of actual crimes, will be strained through the same technological net created to ensnare criminals. From a crime and drug interdiction standpoint, this is a curious use of technology in the place of actual police work. From a privacy standpoint, this scheme is entirely incompatible with the proper role of government.
Each of us has an inherent natural right to privacy and a right to be left alone by government unless probable cause exists that we are party to a criminal act. By subjecting every motorist to the predatory scrutiny of the scanners and storing that information for up to two years, government is doubling down on the idea that we’re all guilty of something; we just haven’t been caught yet.
This flies in the face of the presumption of innocence that is the bedrock of our criminal justice system.
The claim that this technology will only be used to keep us safe from criminals rings as hollow as the Transportation Security Administration’s claims that only by submitting to being undressed electronically or by having our genitals touched are we safe to travel by air.
Just as TSA checkpoints are beginning to migrate out of the airports and into train stations, bus depots and other public venues, it is a virtual certainty that this license plate scanning technology will eventually be used to track the movements of every person who drives. Those who would dismiss this possibility as mere paranoia fail to recognize that the most paranoid entity in America today is a governing authority that views every citizen as a potential criminal or terrorist until they have submitted to government screening.
It’s bad enough that many municipalities now regularly use license plate scanners to squeeze revenue out of motorists who are delinquent in coughing up their yearly tribute for licensing and registering their vehicles. But now we’re being told that because I-15 is considered a “drug corridor” that the state needs to be able to keep tabs on every vehicle that travels this freeway. Where does it stop?
Thanks to the war on some drugs, police can seize any arbitrary large amount of cash from a motorist without having to prove that the money was associated with any crime. Under anti-meth laws, a grandmother can be arrested for purchasing an extra box of cold medication if she does so within a certain time period. How do these incidents square with the concept of justice?
At least 300 jurisdictions in the U.S. are awaiting Federal Aviation Administration approval to use unmanned aerial drones to keep tabs on the population. The federal government is paving the way so within the next eight to 10 years, the number of drones over America will number around 30,000. Is it unreasonable to question the state’s apparent need to monitor our every movement when it’s clear that crime prevention is becoming secondary to the kind of surveillance that enables total government control?
Is there an effective check on government power any longer? For those who can see beyond rhetoric of the security state, it’s clear that a transformation is taking place in America.
At what point can we safely say, “welcome to our police state” without being accused of exaggeration?
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.