Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 13, 2013

Police, Cell Phone Cameras, and Rodeo Clowns: Some Random Links for Tuesday

1. With peace talks about to resume, the Israeli Housing Ministry has approved the construction of nearly 1,200 new settlement housing units in land annexed during the 1967 War.

2. Megan McArdle on civil asset forfeiture in Texas. Unfortunately, this story could be told, with virtually no changes, in many other states in the Union.

3. A picture is worth a thousand words. This has been especially true when it comes to police abuse. For the past few years, ordinary citizens have been able to use their cell phone cameras to record police interactions with civilians, and those cell phone video have been invaluable in exposing police abuse.

It is a bit alarming, then, to hear that Apple is busy developing the IT capability to allow the police (and other powerful entities) to disable the camera and video features on third party devices. Nick Farrell makes the point quite well (emphasis added): “Apple has patented a piece of technology which would allow government and police to block transmission of information, including video and photographs, whenever they like. All the coppers have to do is decide that a public gathering or venue is deemed ‘sensitive’, and needs to be ‘protected from externalities’ and Apple will switch off all its gear. … Apple insists that the affected sites are mostly cinemas, theatres, concert grounds and similar locations, but it does admit that it could be used in ‘covert police or government operations which may require complete “blackout” conditions’. … Apple patented the means to transmit an encoded signal to all wireless devices, commanding them to disable recording functions. The policies would be activated by GPS, and wi-fi or mobile base-stations, which would ring-fence (‘geofence’) around a building or a ‘sensitive area’ to prevent phone cameras from taking pictures or recording video. Odd that the company made famous by its 1984 Big Brother video can’t really see what it is doing. Perhaps its own secretive culture and an overzealous security treatment of its staff have fostered sympathy for Big Brother after all.” (H/T: Unqualified Offerings.)

4. Reuters has a report on a Special Operations Division within the DEA. The SOD gathers tips from NSA intercepts and other sources (including wiretaps by foreign governments, “court-approved domestic wiretaps,” and phone log data) and passes those tips along to federal agents and local law enforcement. Federal agents are “trained to ‘recreate’ the investigative trail to conceal the SOD’s involvement.”

Via Thoreau, who has some thoughts of his own: “The revelation that drug investigations are reverse-engineered from illegal wiretaps does not surprise me, but it does make me wonder about a few things. Now I start to get why cops often come up with such creative pretexts for searches. If they have illegal evidence that you are up to something, they can acquire legit evidence without too much trouble. A cop can just happen to be in the vicinity of your activities and ‘notice’ something. You can be pulled over for driving 36 mph in a 35 mph zone. And so forth. Once you are pulled over legitimately, a cop can come up with some pretext to bring in the drug-sniffing dogs. The dogs, being social creatures that want to please their handlers, will of course “alert” on your car, and now they have a pretext to search you, and everything they find becomes admissible. And nobody will ever know that this all came from an unconstitutional NSA intercept. Mind you, I’m not saying that every cop who calls out the dogs to search the car of a random black motorist is acting on an NSA intercept, but it wouldn’t shock me if more searches than we realize come from somebody at NSA telling somebody at DEA who tells local cops ‘We know this person is up to something, so find a pretext.'”

5. A federal district court judge in New York has ruled that the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” tactics constitute unconstitutional racial profiling. Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal.

6. Over at Crooked Timber, Belle Waring makes some good points about an offensive rodeo clown act at the recent Missouri State Fair. Her justifiable moral indignation would come across a lot better if her post were not dripping with coastal, urban, cosmopolitan disdain for state fairs and the rural America that produces them. For a slightly different take on the same underlying story, see this post by Ken at Popehat.

7. John Grisham can’t write an ending, but he can write an op-ed piece about Guantanamo, and for that he has our thanks. (H/T: Anderson.)

Update (Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 1:20 PM): in the comments, Anderson suggests that I am being unfair to Belle Waring in item #6 above. Rereading Waring’s post at Crooked Timber, I will say that the first paragraph of her post arguably reads more in the nature of sympathetic ribbing and neighborly satire rather than Olympian disdain — more laughing with than laughing at, in the first paragraph. My mistake. Sometimes posts look different after rest and a second read than they do late in the evening after a long day of travel.



  1. No fair on Belle. She obviously enjoys state fairs, or she wouldn’t be able to write so accurately about them.

    • After rereading Waring’s post, you may be right.

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