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The scanning device, seen here, IDs people based on reflections of invisible beams of infrared light.  (Source: Vehicle Occupancy L)
Washington road contractors have some innovative and perhaps intrusive traffic control strategies.

Civil contractor Transurban doesn't want Washington D.C. drivers cheating its toll system -- so it is going to scan them

An expansion of a major Washington D.C. highway I-495, the Capital Beltway, is planned to start next year.  The highway loops around D.C. and crosses through Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

The expansion plans to bring privately operated toll lanes to the table as an alternative for commuters in rush hour traffic.  The big perk is that carpoolers will get to ride in these lanes for free under the current plan.

Enforcement though is a sticky issue; how to determine people from decoy dummies or large dogs riding in the passenger seat?  Rather than manually policing the area, the companies owning the project have proposed using technology that would scan drivers and passengers with bursts of infrared light that detect the reflectivity of human skin.

Ken Daley, a senior vice president of one of the two companies contracted for the project, says that the technology is so advanced that it can accurately ID a human face from an animal such as a pet.

Transurban has given no word on whether the devices might also be used for "national security" or other government purposes.

Washington D.C. drivers are not very happy about the proposal.  They are voicing their concerns to the government, raising uncertainty of whether the project will be approved.  Aside from the general discomfort with the idea of being watched, they fear the move could be used against them legally or monetarily.

Divorce courts could theoretically file for images of a route the husband or wife might have taken to see where they were really going to.  Employers could do the same if they suspected an employee of using their sick days for vacation.  Worse yet, insurance companies could use the information to ID drivers with long commutes and up their rates.

Ginger Goodin, an engineer at the Texas Transportation Institute, feels bad for the concerned commuters. "[Commuters] feel a sense of privacy in their vehicle, even though they may not really have it if you look at the legal cases,” said Goodin.  “[But] if they just can't stomach [scanning systems], then they have their choice, right next to it, to use the general-purpose lane."

The case is drawing attention as it may become an example by which other states choose their policies.  Maryland and Virginia both have planned expansions on their books. 

California and Colorado both have privately run toll roads that are currently free to carpoolers.  In California, police wait behind concrete blocks ready to jet out and pull over offenders.  In Colorado, they use a much simpler system which simply has drivers peel off into a separate lane mid-trip where they are visually checked to avoid payment.

The D.C. area contractors' moves will likely stir up a hornet nest of privacy concerns.  The issue is strikingly similar to the fears surrounding RFID implants and the prospect of mandatory chipping.  Last year Scott Silverman, Chairman of the Board of VeriChip Corporation, who make the only FDA approved RFID implant, proposed a solution to the problem of illegal immigration -- mandatory microchipping of guest workers and anyone found to be illegally dwelling in or trying to enter the U.S.  The previous day President Bush, whose former head of the Department of Health and Human Sciences Tommy Thompson is currently serving on Verichip's board, had called for "high-tech measures to solve the immigration problem."

There is significant pending and passed legislation that aims to protect constituents from unwanted intrusion and scanning.  As reported by DailyTech, California's state Senate recently passed a bill banning companies or anyone else from forcing a California citizen to be involuntarily microchipped.

These issues will not go away as technology becomes more and more entrenched in our day to day lives.  People will likely struggle with these complex moral issues as they ponder whether the benefits of increased safety are worth someone being able to watch them in their daily lives.



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RE: Just for clarification
By jtemplin on 10/5/2007 12:28:33 AM , Rating: 2
I agree with everything you said, except the part about me misreading =D
I just read the Opinion (I went mostly off past knowledge and a quick once over before) and it definitely seems as if the Opinion concerns the technology (the word appears 12 times).

This quote from the opinion is telling:
quote:
The question we confront today is what limits there are upon this power of technology to shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy.

This is a good question which certainly involves the role of technology in interpreting the Fourth Amendment. There were obviously no thermal imagers around at the time the Bill of Rights was ratified which makes things a bit murkier. They address this murkiness below:

quote:
We think that obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the interior of the home that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical “intrusion into a constitutionally protected area,” Silverman, 365 U.S., at 512, constitutes a search–at least where (as here) the technology in question is not in general public use. This assures preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.

Following that quote, we have resolved that this is indeed a "search". Their logic follows from here to its eventual conclusion:
quote:
Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of the home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a “search” and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.
If the officer had obtained a warrant to use the thermal imager on Kyllo's house, this case would not have reached the Supreme Court. He however did not, which violates the procedure of antecedent justification. The officer needs to justify the logic of the search before the search is conducted in front of a magistrate, otherwise this situation
quote:
"bypasses the safeguards provided by an objective predetermination of probable cause, and substitutes instead the far less reliable procedure of an after-the-event justification for the . . . search, too likely to be subtly influenced by the familiar shortcomings of hindsight judgment." Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 96 .

Another good quote from Kyllo regarding technology and privacy:
quote:
The Government maintains, however, that the thermal imaging must be upheld because it detected “only heat radiating from the external surface of the house,” Brief for United States 26. The dissent makes this its leading point, see post, at 1, contending that there is a fundamental difference between what it calls “off-the-wall” observations and “through-the-wall surveillance.” But just as a thermal imager captures only heat emanating from a house, so also a powerful directional microphone picks up only sound emanating from a house—and a satellite capable of scanning from many miles away would pick up only visible light emanating from a house. We rejected such a mechanical interpretation of the Fourth Amendment in Katz, where the eavesdropping device picked up only sound waves that reached the exterior of the phone booth. Reversing that approach would leave the homeowner at the mercy of advancing technology–including imaging technology that could discern all human activity in the home. While the technology used in the present case was relatively crude, the rule we adopt must take account of more sophisticated systems that are already in use or in development.

I see your point that location can override the method used to conduct the search.
However, at some future time perhaps a MEG-like device, so sensitive it can accurately pick up the magnetic fields generated by the ionic currents in neurons and able to solve the inverse problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverse_problem) and able to filter out background noise etc, can accurately image the electrical activity of the brain. Now picture that this electrical activity can be compared to some known values, or whatever--this is supposed to be a stretch of the imagination, indicating a desire to say, get high. So I could be in a park thinking about smoking the joint in my pocket, while nearby a police officer uses this "mind reader" and searches me and finds said joint.
Now in this example, I think the court and society would agree that the contents of ones mind are reasonably expected by a person and society to be private, regardless of where the thought was conceived. This gets back to Katz where they stated that the Fourth Amendment is more concerned with people than place.

I guess it seemed like I was taking issue with these cameras in particular, but it simply reminded me of all these problems that come up with privacy and technology. I was really trying to get at the bigger issue of government intrustion on the Fourth Amendment, as the post I was replying to brought up. Hope I didn't miss anything..heh


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