Plain Talk – 8.31.10

Plain Talk – 8.31.10

Posted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 8:01 pm
By: Nicolle Crist, Guest Columnist

My family was recently affected by crime so it’s difficult to distance myself from the recent debates in federal court about the police use of GPS surveillance.
I know my dilemma is common; distancing personal experience from the rule of law is hard. The crime committed against my family was non-violent.
I can’t imagine what how we would feel if it wasn’t. In that context, I want to see police departments with all the tools and technological advancements they can possibly have to solve crimes.
On the other hand, my 4th Amendment protection against search and seizure is a right I’m not too eager to give up. Like so many other issues facing our country, there is no clear cut right and wrong.
An unnamed former Justice department source on CNN.com explained that from a law enforcement point of view, this is just another way to follow and track a suspects movement – no different than being tailed by an undercover officer; which is allowed without a court order in most cases.
This seems like a reasonable justification though it is fascinating how different “Police use technology to track bad-guys” sounds from “Big government secretly tracks law-abiding citizens”; but how information is presented to us is a whole other topic, isn’t it? 
According to the New York Times, the Supreme Court has maintained that Americans should only expect a right to privacy when “no one else could normally see or hear.”
Again, seems reasonable on the surface except that it means wealthier people have more Constitutional protections than the rest of us.
Americans who can’t afford a privacy fence or those of us who’s garage is filled with yard sale bargains aren’t as protected.
The 9th Circuit Court recently upheld a conviction that included GPS surveillance evidence from a GPS unit placed on the suspects car while it was parked in his drive-way.
I’ve heard the argument that if a private citizen placed a GPS on someones car without permission it would be stalking, why on earth would we allow the government to do it without some sort of court justification? Again, a reasonable question.
As a country, we owe it to ourselves and to our police officers, to keep up with technology. We want our officers to know how to do their jobs; we want crimes solved, and we want our rights secured.
Presumably, we all want the decisions about new technologies to be made on a case by case basis based on facts, not politics and presumably, all Americans get a representative say in the debate through their election of the president, who nominates the judges in the first place.
Which is why it is baffling to me, that Republican Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky has been holding up the nomination of Nashville judge, Jane Stanch for months even after both of our Senators here in Tennessee said they support the nomination by President Obama.
Do I agree with GPS surveillance by the police – it depends on the circumstance – but what I do agree with is that it’s an important debate that needs to be had.
Our courts, our law enforcement agencies and our entire system of self government can’t come to a grinding halt simply because one political party has fallen out of power.
Send me your comments by email to nicolle.crist@gmail.com.
WCP 8.31.10

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