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“You don’t exist!”

Rob Fisher has an interesting posting up about police harassment, as displayed in a reality TV show. Basically, the police took it upon themselves to mess with some apparently quite innocent citizens, fishing for crimes that they might have committed. And it turned out one of them had apparently done something evil. He had, apparently, committed the crime of failing to be on the police driver database. Said the policeman: “You don’t exist” …It turned out that the database did contain him, but spelt slightly differently.

Rob Fisher is depressed about all this. But what I think this episode – by which I mean not just the police harassing people, but it being on television, and Rob Fisher copying out what they said and blogging about it – is that one of the benefits of total surveillance (see my immediately previous post) might be that the authorities might find themselves having to behave rather better.

7 comments to “You don’t exist!”

  • Quenton

    What’s that? You say that you have fathered 3 children? Delivered groceries to old people? Composed a symphony? Cured cancer? That’s all well and good but you don’t seem to be in our database. I am afraid you don’t exist, and therefore, may not ride the bus. Now step aside, there is an Asian gentleman behind you with a large backpack, a Koran, and a vaild ID.

  • Sunfish

    Here in the US, every state has a database of licensed drivers, available to police in real time. As in, when I make a traffic stop, I know whether or not the driver has been suspended or revoked, and I can get his citation history easily enough.

    In theory.

    In practice, what we find a lot of are “no record found” after someone hands me what appears to be a perfectly-normal license. This is especially a problem with other states. What makes it more confusing than that is, under our state law, every license issued anywhere in the world is valid, so long as the licensee hasn’t been suspended/revoked/denied here in this state. That’s without even a requirement that the license be printed in English. And we have no way of verifying a non-US-or-Canada license. As a result, if someone hands me a piece of paper with a bad photo and a bunch of Farsi scrawled on it and tells me it’s his license, I’m probably not in a good position to argue.

    Note: having a valid license, just not in your possession, is not arrestable in this state. It’s a civil violation, where you can go home and decide whether to mail twenty bucks to the court clerk or argue in front of the judge in six weeks. And having no license at all is technically arrestable, but only under limited circumstances (reasonable belief on my part that you’ll fail to appear as required if I issue you a summons, when the maximum fine is $100) and can also be pled and paid by mail. What gets people jailed for license issues in my area is either impersonation (passing someone else’s license as your own or telling me that you’re someone else) or having had a license and getting it suspended/revoked/denied and driving anyway. (Unless it was for drunk driving, we still normally give you a court date and offer you a ride to a bus stop or pay phone).

    Don’t get me started on the warrants list, though. A year or so ago, I pulled a family over for running a stop sign. The driver came back as being wanted for felony theft. Her name and date of birth matched the ones on the warrant perfectly.

    The problem was: the wanted person was a white female, 5’10″ 220#, blond and blue eyes. My driver was black, and not even five feet tall…

  • I do not exist.
    I am not the droid you are looking for.
    Move along.

  • Alex

    After a road traffic accident i was made to ‘accompany’ the police officer to the nick because according to his database the house i’d lived in for 10 years didn’t exsit! he got in such a tizzy about it he didn’t even remeber to breathleyse me (not that i had been drinking). So because of his database i was forced to spend the next few hours of my precious weekend drinking crap coffee in a police station after NOT doing anythingt illegal at all.

  • the authorities might find themselves having to behave rather better

    I seem to remember a suggestion that policeman’s helmets be fitted with video cameras. I thought it quite a good idea for that reason.

    It also brings to mind an essay I read online (but can’t find) comparing two scenarios: one in which the authorities have control of the cameras, and one in which cameras are everywhere and anyone could access any camera at any time. The essay concluded that the latter was preferable.

    See also The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, which is an entertaining sci-fi novel that explores what the world might be like after “WormCams” cause a universal loss of privacy.

  • Ryan Waxx

    Here in the States, there have been a couple of court descisions stating that it is a violation of a police officer’s privacy to videotape him while he is doing his job.

    The court did not opine on weather videotaping a bank teller or grocery cashier was a similar violation.

    One set of rights for the government, one set of rights for its victims…

  • Sunfish

    Here in the States, there have been a couple of court descisions stating that it is a violation of a police officer’s privacy to videotape him while he is doing his job.

    If you mean the case law that I think you mean, what happened was that the state in question was a two-party state. What that means is that both parties to a conversation must consent to recording, in order for such recording to be legal. The fact that one of the parties was a police officer was irrelevant: he was a party to the conversation who had not consented.