Civil libertarians in overdrive
May 2, 2002
The Nevada Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow police to use tracking devices on vehicles without obtaining a court warrant was enough to send some civil libertarians into overdrive.
Where will be the checks and balances? they asked. Who will police answer to? they wondered. They speculated, along with the court’s minority opinion, that the ruling would allow some police officer to spy on an ex-girlfriend, if he so desired.
Well, we suppose that’s possible. We also suppose any police officer who is using the department’s surveillance equipment to spy on an old girlfriend to be fired by the time he shows up for work the next day.
We like our civil liberties as well as anybody. And while we tend to be more trusting of cops than suspicious, we recognize the potential for abuse of authority.
But we don’t imagine there are many police officers who routinely act without supervision, outside the boundaries of departmental policy, targeting random innocent citizens for harassment with their surveillance devices.
Most cops are too busy trying to catch criminals.
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One of the ways they do that is through surveillance. A detective who follows a suspect by driving around in an unmarked car is using technology too, just an older one.
Attaching a device to a car is a tool that can be abused, yes, but is far more likely to help police do their job well. There remain in place all the elements police must meet before they affect an arrest, and the rules of evidence that must be followed to support a conviction in court.
We believe there is far more serious potential for infringement of rights in the powers of police officers to search inside vehicles. Sticking something on the outside of the car, though, doesn’t worry us much.