Monday, August 01, 2005

Peeking Dick.

If this scanning method works out it will be a valuable scientific and technological tool but it raises issues of reasonable search and seizure. It relies on passive radiation so they are technically just gathering information that is present in the environment. It means that the cops can see search crowds of people for weapons (lawful or otherwise) drugs or explosives without their knowledge. As is being pursued with other search techniques that can see under clothing, there will no doubt be advancements where the flesh form is replaced on the display with a generic computer graphic, free of naughty bits and fat bulges. But I can not help wonder how this might be abused. If large amounts of cash and a small (legal sized) jack knife were seen on someone could the cops stop you to check the size of your knife while asking some casual questions about why you are carrying so much cash? Could crooked cops look for tourists with money belts and phone the description to a mugger on the next block? What if an ambitious cop or prosecutor finds out that one of the male judges in town was wearing women's underwear when they were stopped at a sobriety checkpoint. (Those under-wire bras would probably stand out.) It might mean that more convictions started going his way.

People say that if you are doing nothing wrong you have nothing to hide but not only is that not true (everyone has something to hide, even if it is not illegal) it ignores an important point: What if someone who could effect your life has something to hide? A contract could go to your company's competitor, a law that negatively effects you could be passed, your taxes could end up in even stranger places than they already do. Other people's privacy is important to you whether you know it or not.

Perhaps I am paranoid. I am sure that the positive uses will vastly out number the potential harm but it goes to show that most discussions about new powers to police forces take place after the potential for misuse is realized, not before. This technology would be undetectable so even if the cops needed warrants to use it, how would we be able to tell if they were using it surreptitiously? Police are already using infrared cameras to detect houses with abnormally warm roofs to locate marijuana grow-ops. If this new passive scanning can see through windows and curtains as easily as it can see through clothing and luggage, they might conduct house to house searches without warrant or informing you and claim an anonymous tip when they hit on something criminal.

They might just find out about that wild extramarital sex you have been having. (Don't try to deny it. No one has any secrets anymore.) Even when you are replaced by generic computer graphics it would be pretty easy to figure out what you were doing when the sex scenes from GTA San Andreas show up on their scanner screen.

"Hot Coffee" indeed. I really need to get that game before it is pulled from the shelves.


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