On a recent night in Memphis, a patrol car rolled slowly through a parking lot in a run-down section of town. The military-grade infrared camera on its hood moved robotically from left to right, snapping digital images of one license plate after another and analyzing each almost instantly.
They tried that out with the Pinellas county sheriff here. The cops didn't think it passed the 4th amendment test and declined to buy it. Also they didn't think it was that effective.
Hand-held, wireless fingerprint scanners were carried by U.S. troops during the insurgency in Iraq to register residents of entire neighborhoods. L-1 Identity Solutions is selling the same type of equipment to police departments to check motorists' identities.
That's pretty handy, a lot of times the local cops are arresting people folks with no ID so they can be transported and printed to ascertain their identity. If they can do that at the car it reduces the time they jails spend processing petty shit. You still need pc to run the prints anyway.
edit: or the permission of the subject.
But not everyone is convinced. "It opens a door for all kinds of abuses," said Michael German, a former FBI agent who now leads the American Civil Liberties Union's campaign on national security and privacy matters. "How do we know there are enough controls?"
Very good point. There have been local instances of officers using their terminals in the car to stalk women, harass exes etc. Of course the human element comes into play here. As long as your agency is responsive to complaints it is easy to see who has been looking at what files. The level to which these things are implemented depends on how localities want their local cops to address crime. Local to me police agencies have been loathe to use cameras or other automated system, with the exception of traffic cameras, indicating they felt they were either ineffective or failed to pass constitutional tests. Some areas and agencies will not have these problems and it depends on relative crime levels and how the community wants crime addressed.
The national intel databases are going to be the most problematic for a few reasons. I remember filling out a couple of FIR (field information reports) once with a deputy on some kids we were talking to when I rode along with him one night. The info was sketchy, we found out later that the kids lied to us about a few things. But it was forwarded on to the county database, I assume such things would now pass to a federal database. Since it is removed from the local agency's control it is more opaque that local initiatives such as cameras and fingerprint machines. It is something that various sources have been seeking for years, preventing people from fleeing to another state and avoiding prosecution or tracking. We have to decide as a society if we are ok with this level of Federal power, the ability to compile and monitor data on people in order to prevent or solve crimes such as rape and murder. Much like the health care debate this is about the comfort level of people with the intrusion of the federal government in their lives and it's power over the state. Like that debate it may be worthwhile looking at places that already have such nationwide police resources in place. England or course, but I think most of Europe has some level of national databases that local agencies are tied into. Have they experienced the abuses that we are fearing? Are the fears misplaced?