firebrandfreedom

Friday, March 04, 2005

Who plays by the rules anyway

Private companies that gather information on citizens are out of control with power and have already stripped away everyone's rights to privacy. Since their system of profit is based upon knowledge about you, me, or any person who is alive or dead, the bottom line with these companies is that knowledge is profit. There are two primary customers for companies like this, the first are the corporations of the private sector who use your information to sell you things you do not need and the other is the government who uses the information for god knows what. Companies like ChoicePoint are gobbling up information about everyone in the private sector and using this privately gathered intelligence for government security and surveillance of its own citizens. Is this even ethical or right that a for profit company is allowed to function as part of the intelligence community with private information of citizens and co-operate with the government at high levels of security? Here is the article. If the government were to go out and do all this type of investigation about it's citizens on it's own then it would be considered highly unethical and almost too big brotherish. However, branches of the government are allowed to purchase information from these companies and use it to their own discretion without ever having to issue a warrant, tap a phone, or use surveillance in an investigation. The government has rules in place to stop the corruption of power from within the system. Not allowing the government to gather information on its citizens is one of those rules. By circumventing this rule, the game has just become unfriendly and rather unfair. It's like playing a board game with someone who just makes up their own rules as they play the game, but only when the applied rule happens to be their current position. Who plays by the rules anyway?


These types of databases can cause several potentially hazardous situations. The problems incurred by companies like Choicepoint include identity theft by hackers and black market use of this stolen intelligence. Choicepoint is being sued in California for the breaches of security in their system where hackers stole thousands of records from a database.

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PRIVACY

Monday, February 28, 2005

Government Surveillance: Is it Worth It?

Since the introduction of video recording devices into the consumer population, people are used to the idea that cameras are everywhere. It is no surprise that people send their funny home videos to a show for a shot at the $10,000 golden cash-calf. When someone catches a scene of atrocity they send their video to a person who will compile it with other similar videos and show the carnage to anyone who pays the price. When police videotape chasing a criminal through the streets, putting everyone at risk, the highlight of the video is the crash at the end where the bad guy gets subdued to the ground by eight police officers. I could go on forever about these types of shows and how the use of cameras in society gives us an utter sense of realism. But what about the types of cameras that governments all over the world are beginning to install as a deterrent for crime. What uses does a stationary camera have in deterring crime? Another question this poses is whether or not the cameras are actually effective in reducing crime. England has long played the advocate for using CCTV as a deterrent for crime, which in a sense has helped to sealed several convictions in some cases but has failed in other cases. The cameras in England have been thought to be a surefire way of apprehending criminals, but some studies have proven otherwise. The studies conducted have shown that the cameras help to reduce only certain types of crime against property and only under certain conditions. Crimes committed underneath the cloak of the night have proven to be more difficult to obtain convictions due to the fact that proper lighting is essential in indentifying the criminals. The types of crime that the cameras do not deter are violent crimes, and these types of crimes are the ones that citizens fear the most. Violent crimes are the types of crimes that require more investigative police officers, not more cameras. The CCTV that has been used in England has been quoted as reducing crime to a small degree. So the question remains to our citizens, is the cost of financing a project which could reduce crime to a small degree going to be beneficial to our society? Will this deterrent of crime be worth our tax dollars?

Another angle at which we need to consider the use of CCTV is the types of problems that it creates in it's own nature. These cameras are usually mounted in an outdoor setting and are monitored by people at a central command station. The types of abuse that have already stemmed from the use by US and UK government officials have included blackmail and voyeurism. The standards for ethical use of these machines are set at low levels because there is not much oversight in the regulation of the systems. One guy sits in a room and watches multiple screens. He eventually gets bored and starts creating scenarios by using the cameras to watch women or in the case of blackmail, using the cameras to catch husbands cheating on their spouses and then blackmailing them. So does this deterrent for crime really produce a effective measure for us or does it just recreate other problems from the other side of the lens?

Unjust Deterrent of Criminal Activity

Minorities have long been the target of persecution and arrests by law enforcement. Law enforcement may argue that criminal activity occurs largely in areas that are inhabited by minorities and in order to apprehend criminals, everyone in those areas is considered a suspect. These law enforcement techniques of racial profiling have long been overdue for an adjustment. How does targeting an entire race of people stop criminal activity? It doesn't. It does however, disproportionately put them in the criminal justice system at the cost of every innocent person stopped and searched. Since most crimes go unsolved, deterring crime is no doubt a challenge. But, endless searches of innocent people to try and apprehend criminals is a direct violation of people's rights. Innocent people have to forgo their rights to feel protected from the crime that surrounds them. Law abiding citizens want nothing more than to go about their own business without having to become a suspect in an otherwise stressful situation. The endless searches that law enforcement use in an attempt to try and circumvent criminal activity also creates an area of distrust between the innocent citizens and the law enforcement. People have to give into the pressure of cooperation in order to feel like they can be trusted which in turn can make them untrusting or upset at the same people put in place to protect them. The question remains in their minds, "Why am I a suspect?" The answer in the case of innocence is that you are not a suspect, by forfeiting your rights you become trustworthy enough to move about your business as if nothing happened. So if you decide you ever want to leave your home, the only way to stop crime is to forfeit your rights.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Criminal Sentencing in Texas makes Little Sense

A little over two years ago, Hollie Winn, a very close family friend and girlfriend to my brother was killed in a car accident. Hollie and her friend both died instantly from the head on collision with a person whose BAC was twice the legal limit. Hollie's life was taken and we all grieved, but at the time it didn't seem real, because I knew her and everyone loved her. It was surreal to have such tragedy happen in my own world, so close to home. The shocking new addition to this story is that the man who was responsible for her death is scheduled for parole this September 2005 after being in jail for only two years. This case poses several questions. Should a person who has taken two lives be put in jail for his whole sentence or should he have early release option? Is it really a lighter sentence to kill two people when you have been drinking and serve less time than someone who is serving time in Texas prisons for drug problem? These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves.

In the state of Texas the prison system is overcrowded and in deep crisis over bedspace. It is problem facing the system today because of tougher laws imposed on nonviolent criminals in the state. The tougher laws are never meant to deter criminal behavior, because if they carried any weight in the first place people would obey them. The tougher laws do however cram the jails full of people who do not belong there in the first place like nonviolent offenders. Tougher laws on nonviolent criminals have inadvertently caused an overcrowding in the prison system and now the reality of the matter is that violent offenders leave the prison population because the prisons need more room to house the nonviolent offenders. "Release people who have left a trail of victims, we need to send that drug addict to jail!" The mantra for the Texas prison system is not equivocal to justice for victims and their families. Some guy who can't kick his smack habit has only victimized himself so why does the system think he has some debt to pay to society for only hurting himself. If justice were to be served on a case by case basis we would lock up all criminals convicted of crimes involving a victim and help Joe Smack addict get treatment rather than releasing more violent criminals back into society.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Why raise taxes mayor, we have red light cameras

On 2/15/05 at the Texas Legislature's Committee on Urban Affairs HB 269 was debated and voted through committee. A myriad of mayors & police chiefs testified against the bill at the hearing to keep their cash cow red light cameras. HB 269 will correct a piece of legislation that was introduced without warning last session. The red light camera bill had already been voted out of the house of reprensentatives when this sneaky bit of language was added into an obscure bill. The strong push for the red light cameras last session came from the Dallas & Houston areas. Both areas of the state have already implemented the cameras and have been generating revenues based on these systems. Red light cameras, in theory, support public safety by way of reducing red light runners and making the world a better place. Isn't that idealistic? Really now, it all boils down to the one thing that we all can't get enough of, money. The real fact of the matter is that regular Joe taxpayer who has to work for a living and barely has time to pick up his kid from school runs a red light. He is now fined $180 dollars and the mayor never has to raise taxes. Who in the world has never run a red light? The fact of the matter is that if red light cameras were implemented cities would not raise taxes temporarily. By slipping another tax into society by the tricky disguise of public safety, the cities would naturally be able to do more for it's citizens, but at the cost of everyone. Isn't that a tax? Red light cameras also have been proven ineffective in actually reducing the amount of accidents and in some cases have increased accidents, contrary to waving the giant flag of public safety. I forgot to mention that auto insurance rates do not decrease when these new safety measures are implemented. It gets better. The red light cameras that were started in San Diego where soon removed because the civil contractor was abusing the system to raise revenues. Compounded with the problem of ineffectiveness, abuse of the system is definitely the icing on the cake. There is not a payoff here, inherent or otherwise, just another alternative to taxation.