"Don’t they know that you have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide?"

Alex Marthews over at Digital Fourth hits it out of the park in his observation of the intersection of the surveillance state and LEO hypocrisy:

Sauce for the Gander: Boston Police Officers Apparently Don’t Like Being “Followed All Over The Place”

From the ACLU of Massachusetts:

Boston Police Department bosses want to install GPS monitoring devices in every patrol car, to enable dispatch to more efficiently process 911 calls. But police officers and their union are outraged, saying that the ubiquitous tracking is too invasive of their personal privacy. Tracking the location of officers as they go about their days would reveal incredibly detailed information about their lives, the officers say.

It must be just awful to go about your daily life looking over your shoulder, conscious that your every movement and activity is being recorded and could be used against you. Oh, wait. That’s what the entire American public is already dealing with, in this age of mass electronic surveillance. But the way the police union is hissing’n'flapping about it, it’s almost as if there was something wrong with that. Don’t they know that you have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide?

I want to embed more, but pretty much every line of the four paragraphs is quote-worthy, so "go read the whole thing", as the kids say.

Last 5 posts by Clark


  1. says

    There is very little we can do, as a practical matter, to keep Big Brother from watching us. What we can do is to make sure we can keep watching Big Brother.

    (This is an experiment. I deleted my usual few hundred words of caveats, conditionals, explanations, expansions, and so on, and reduced it to bumper sticker size. Let's see if this results in me ultimately writing just as much in the long run, as people try to address all the obvious questions, comments, and rejoinders I originally had discussed.)

  2. JonasB says

    I could understand an irony if these were NSA employees, but I don't see what's ironic about policemen not wanting GPS trackers in their cars. I don't think the argument that it could "reveal incredibly detailed information about their lives" is a good one though, since you shouldn't be using a police car for personal business. But the police aren't connected to the NSA, so I don't see an irony.

  3. cpast says

    If monitoring the movements of an on-duty police officer reveals too much about his personal life, that's already a problem. On-duty police officers should be doing POLICE work. If they want to do something personal and not have it be monitored by the department, the least they could do is do it when they aren't on the taxpayers' clock.

  4. Dion starfire says

    Before y'all get all up-in-arms over this, it should be noted that this is just the Boston PD complaining about it. Which is something all people (and especially large groups of people) do when some change affects them, or they have to adjust their routine.

    The LAPD already does this and has found " the advantages WAY outweigh the concerns."

    Here's the relevant quote from Ars Technica's article on the topic

    UPDATE Tuesday 8:49am CT: Sid Heal, a recently-retired commander who evaluated technology during his decades-long tenure at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, told Ars by e-mail that his colleagues in Southern California have "a lot" of patrol cars with GPS.

    "It is just starting, but we weren't first either," he said. "It is coming whether they see the advantage of not. The issues they raised I also had to deal with ALADS (Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sherriffs.) Long story but the advantages WAY outweigh the concerns."

    There are plenty of actual problems with the LE community, and the LE system, but hypocrisy about being observed (by fellow officers) isn't one of them.

  5. David C says

    @JonasB: It wasn't the NSA that argued before the Supreme Court that a warrant was not needed to sneak up someone's driveway and secretly install a GPS on someone's car. It was police who did that. I think that alone is enough for the irony to be valid.

    Compare the privacy invasion from tracking a department-owned police car whose drivers are public employees and know about the tracking vs the privacy invasion of tracking a private citizen's car without his knowledge.

  6. Xoshe says

    @Matt D: I can't speak for Boston, or even the area where you live, but to be fair to the statement in question, I've lived in cities where at least some police cruisers were stored at an officers' home after their shift. Probably for the ability to be "on-call", but I never really bothered to ask so I'm not positive.

    That's not to say that tracking of public property (ie, the cruiser) is unreasonable, to ensure it's being used properly, but at least in my experience there's been examples of officers legitimately using the vehicles while off-duty.

    If you believe that an officer is never truly off-duty, though, please feel free to ignore this comment.

  7. JonasB says

    @David C: I don't think the two are comparable though. The police have investigative powers, after all, and with growing technology it makes sense that they'd try to use it, just like anyone else. There's also a difference between planting a GPS on a single, specific individual's vehicle for an investigation and just having blanket GPS on squad cars. I don't think having the cars GPS enabled is that big a deal and will probably blow over, but that doesn't mean officers complaining about it is an ironic or hypocritical situation.

  8. Nick says

    Add me to the list of folks who don't get where the irony is here. Beat cops don't do blanket surveillance on the whole population, and, I'd imagine, are just as entitled to privacy as anyone else.

    Post like this are what make me wonder how much of libertarianism is about civil liberties, and how much is about hating people who happen to work for the government (except folks in the military, those guys are cool because of…reasons).

  9. says

    There's also a difference between planting a GPS on a single, specific individual's vehicle for an investigation and just having blanket GPS on squad cars.

    If police had the power to mandate that every vehicle have GPS tracking, and that they have access to it, they would.

  10. JonasB says

    @Nick: There's a degree of overlap, though it varies like everything else. It doesn't help when people conflate various levels of government into a singular, undulating mass.

  11. luagha says

    The interests for physical officer safety are overwhelmingly beneficial.

    The interests in that information being available for defense attorneys to request in legal situations is also wonderful. I bet that that GPS device will be mysteriously inoperative about as many times as the dash-cam video in cops cars is mysteriously lost.

  12. LibertyEbbs says

    @JonasB: Oh, we have blanket tracking by local cops if that is what you require to see the irony here.

    LE agencies nationwide are creating a dragnet of automated license plate readers that create huge databases of time/location info (potentially) on every vehicle in public view. Not positive if they are in use in Boston, but I would be shocked to learn that they are not.

  13. Ryan says

    Boston PD is on the wrong side of I-don't-even-know-what here. Many law enforcement agencies now have GPS tracking in their vehicle (mine also has portable units that officers can carry when away from the vehicle) and they are a fantastic safety tool.

    I don't understand officers who oppose technological measures that promote accountability – from video taping statements, to GPS tracking in vehicles, to dash-cams, to body-worn cameras – if you do your job with integrity and professionalism, all of these things just HELP you.

  14. says

    @Nick: The beat cops aren't being tracked on their off-duty time. Seriously, if someone proposed affixing permanent trackers to all cops, on-duty or not, I would absolutely oppose it. This proposal is about tracking the vehicles the cops are driving in, while they are on-duty.

    Every time I log in to my work computer, I get a message saying "You are being watched. There is a machine that spies on you every hour of every day.", or words to that effect. It's pretty much accepted that an employer has a right to monitor the use of company resources. Cops are employees, literally of the police department, more figuratively of the citizenry as a whole. Both groups have a moral right to track what their employees are doing, subject to reasonable limits due to the nature of the job. (I accept I will not be given a list of the names and assignments of all undercover officers in my area, for example — but I do consider it reasonable to believe, or expect, that someone responsible is monitoring their activity. And as long as I'm dreaming, I'd like a pony unicorn.)

    If the cops want to develop sources, or whatever, I don't see how it's undermined by GPS. If asked, "Why were you in the dark alley for an hour?", the cop says, "I was working with a contact who wishes to remain anonymous." I assume, perhaps wrongly, that there are policies and guidelines for developing such contacts that set out what the allowed boundaries are, and if the cops are following such policies, why would they fear stating this to their superiors? If they are not following the policies, they *should* be punished; if they wish to argue the policies are inadequate to doing their job, they should push to have them changed.

  15. David C says

    Beat cops don't do blanket surveillance on the whole population, and, I'd imagine, are just as entitled to privacy as anyone else.

    Exactly how much privacy to you think they are entitled to? I don't see officers having much of a legitimate privacy interest in the location of the department-owned car they are driving for work purposes during work hours.

    The GPS's are needed for a legitimate purpose – to allow dispatch to send the closest officers during 911 calls. Even if officers report their positions regularly, the officers that were closest five minutes ago might not be the ones who are closest now. There are circumstances where a few minutes of delay could mean life or death – or merely catching the robbery suspect or not.

    And no, cops don't do blanket surveillance on the whole population. Except when they do.

  16. Kevin says


    I don't understand officers who oppose technological measures that promote accountability

    I do.

    if you do your job with integrity and professionalism…

    I believe you've answered your own question.

  17. htom says

    Sob, sob, sob. :Snort: They were not paying attention when every other work place started installing internal TV and keyboard monitoring, and what they thought was acceptable for the geese has come to the ducks. Where's that tiny tiny violin? Who borrowed it? Karma? Nemesis?

  18. Tim McNeil says

    Technological progress has allowed this to happen at an affordable rate, but it still is going to cost something. That the perceived cost to benefit analysis comes down in favor of tracking the officer or their squad car speaks volumes about the reasoning behind this decision.

    Guys, you brought this on yourselves by acting like douchers or covering up for someone else that acted that way. Wanna meet the person responsible for this? Find a mirror.

  19. I was Anonymous says


    Just a minor correction. LAPD and LASD are two different entities.

    LAPD is the Los Angeles Police Department, a department of the City of Los Angeles.

    LASD is the Los Angeles Sheriff's Deartment. A department of the County of Los Angeles.

  20. MattD says

    @Xoshe, yeah, I worked for a department in charge of, among other things, maintaining the police cruiser fleet. So I know about takehome cars. But then, those cars should be driven from home to work to patrol to back again, so there's no privacy issue there. They shouldn't be taking those cars on personal business.

    Unless, say, hypothetically and this totally didn't actually happen, they use those take home vehicles to drive out of state to score drugs.

    So I guess I see why some people don't want GPS in their cars.

  21. Glenn says

    No, they don’t object to testing you for breath alcohol when they pull you over for going 5 miles over the speed limit on I-35. (Example taken from a recent Austin DWI arrest.)

    They object to being breath tested themselves.

    After they shoot somebody.

    The New York City Police Department is moving to require officers to take breath tests for alcohol if they shoot someone…

    Four of the five officers involved in the shooting are detectives, and the union that represents them criticized the breath test recommendation, saying such a measure — which would apply to all police officers — was subject to collective bargaining…

    Requiring that police officers take breath tests after shootings — whether the officers are on duty or off — is a significant change…

    So, if a police officer asks you to take a breath test, should you exercise your right to refuse, or should you do what the police union would have their members do?

    Oh wait… either way, you would end up refusing the breath test. And after all, you didn’t even shoot anyone.


  22. nlp says

    Several years ago in Massachusetts the highway department ordered that the big trucks that plow the roads have GPS units attached so that if an area needed plowing urgently they could dispatch the closest truck. The guys who drive the trucks fought it tooth and nail, and finally lost. It turned out that while they were out plowing, if a homeowner came out and said, "fifty bucks cash to plow my driveway", the driver would do so. While being paid by the state. That was the reason they fought so hard. The extra money would be gone.

    So, with that kind of history, I'm wondering exactly what the police are doing when they're supposed to be working.

  23. Suedeo says

    "Remember that thing you don't like? Great news, we're doing it to cops now!"

    I want the thing to stop — distributing it more evenly does not make me any happier. "We do it to everyone equally" is a shitty excuse for tyranny.

    Also, tracking devices of which the subject is aware are less effective than tracking devices of which the subject is unaware.

  24. Sami says

    You're aware that city-level police officers are entirely different from federal-level surveillance agents, and are therefore subject to the exact same pervasive invasion of privacy as other American citizens, right?

    For that matter, you're aware that cops are civilians and citizens, right?

  25. says

    I'd contend, as the guy who wrote the article Clark kindly links to, that there can be substantial overlap on surveillance between (especially) big-city police forces and federal agents, via "fusion centers". I'll grant you that small-town cops don't often get invited to play with the big boys at the Boston Regional Intelligence Center and the 77 other fusion centers round the country, but the Boston PD do, and are in this up to their necks. For further proof, you could take a look at http://www.aclum.org/policing_dissent/reports. There may be distinctions in legal culpability re mass surveillance between people wearing BPD or LAPD or NYPD badges and people wearing NSA or FBI badges, but the distinctions in moral culpability grow less with every year they work side by side on "anti-terrorism."

  26. says

    how much is about hating people who happen to work for the government (except folks in the military, those guys are cool because of…reasons).

    Yeah…..libertarians just love them the military and lots of foreign wars. Have you considered seeing a doctor about your recto-craniitis?

  27. says

    Ignoring the glibertarianism and the stupid objections by the cops, there actually is a serious public safety issue to consider.

    If one person or small group has realtime access to know where all the cops are, then everyone does. If you want to pull off a rather large crime, why bring in guys to stand out on street corners to lookout for cops?

    Why not just bribe a guy at the gps monitoring center or hack into their systems. Heck, you could offer it as a service to the local criminals. Sell it as an app where you can report where the cops are.

  28. 205guy says

    Didn't Clark say something about *not* writing about cops anymore? Like 2 articles about cops ago? I think commenter Nick is onto something.

    What's obvious in a case like this, is that the whole GPS-to-improve-response-times is just an excuse to get the employee surveillance tech. The real irony is that those who support the keeping tabs on the police this way are using the same tactics as the NSA–just happen to get some domestic surveillance bycatch (donut breaks and bookie stops) and need to make up some parallel construction when they use it.

    Instead, everyone should have the conviction to say "we need to monitor the cops (GPS and cams) to protect citizens from abusive cops, because otherwise the system has been shown to be exploitable by some rotten apples." I'm talking about the mass media of course, I realize I'm preaching to the choir here.

  29. Cat G says

    I'm sorry, but the officers are SOL. The cars are owned by the state. The state may require the cars to have whatever equipment installed on them as they deem necessary, to include such things as those nifty flashing lights and sirens.

    The Officers do not own the vehicle, do not pay for its maintenance, and drive it strictly for work, even if it is a "take home" vehicle. It is not their property. Why not frame it as "we are tracking the cars, not you" and tell the Union to go buzz off? The cars are state property, and the officers do not have a right to utilize those cars for any purpose not authorized by the state.

    TL; dr – Dude, it's not your car, stop bitching. If you're worried about privacy, drive your own car to the bar.

  30. Dan Weber says

    I want the thing to stop — distributing it more evenly does not make me any happier. "We do it to everyone equally" is a shitty excuse for tyranny.

    This is true. It's also true that sometimes the best way to end a bad practice is to make sure it applies to everyone, including the comfortable.

  31. cpast says


    It depends on the department. My county PD *encouraged* cops to use take-homes for personal business, as long as they stayed within the county. Off-duty cops still have full police powers, and they weren't allowed to drive their patrol cars past someone who needed police help. In that situation, cops driving take-homes basically provided free patrols. However, I'm under the impression that big city departments rarely issue take-homes; I'm pretty sure the Boston PD instead uses two-officer pool cars for patrols.


    Indeed. Using the term "citizen" or "civilian" to refer to someone who isn't a cop reinforces the idea that cops and non-cops are two separate groups of people. Police are civilians (admittedly, many don't *act* like it).

  32. the other rob says

    The first line of the quote reminded me of something: Some years ago I stumbled upon a Latin phrase, apparently a legal maxim that meant "What's sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander" (more or less, it didn't reference actual poultry).

    Since then, I've been unable to rediscover it, despite occasional bouts of searching. Does anybody have the faintest clue what I'm blithering on about?

  33. says

    Without the ability to inflict the same kind of pain on BB that it can inflict on us however, merely watching will ultimately reduce us to a planet of voyeurs.

  34. says

    In my opinion you are wrong on basic logical principles. IF you subscribe to the idea that it is a good thing to give a bunch of humans guns and special powers and an almost de facto immunity from criminal prosecution (unless they REALLY go out of their way to get caught red-handed) so that they can watch over all the other humans, in the interest of safety mind you, I think it automatically follows that they should be watched at all times while on duty by as many people as possible.
    It would make perfect sense to me that they should have cameras embedded in their foreheads if that were humane and possible so that everything they do while on duty is recorded and available for public scrutiny say 24 hours later. That way the guilty don't see them coming but the wrongfully shot/raped/beaten citizens can later prove (or their surviving relatives) the facts of how things actually went down.
    Hell… Under THOSE circumstances I would be ok with becoming a Cop myself. It would automatically allow me to record all bad cops being bad cops, which if I were a Cop would be order of business n.1 . Just as it was when I was doing close protection for VRP (very rich persons).

  35. GuestPoster says

    Hmmm, yeah. I agree with the source article: the most troubling thing to me is the insinuation that they're actually working on their personal lives while at work to an extent that GPS would infringe their privacy.

    I mean, I could see legitimate concerns about someone hacking the system, and knowing where all the cops were. I could see concerns about informants and other contacts being reluctant to come forward if the whole system would know where the cop parked to meet them.

    But "It infringes my privacy"? You're a public employee. Your job isn't to be private. The whole POINT is to protect and serve OTHERS, not yourself.

    If you really need that much privacy, that you can't let it be known where you are such that you can do your job better? You probably ought to locate a new job.

  36. hymie! says

    I was (perhaps I still am) being surveilled (is that really a word?) by an employee of the Social Security Administration, on the recommendation of the County Police, to provide information to the County Department of Planning and Zoning. At what point am I required to stop referring to them collectively as The Government and instead refer to them as individuals working toward the common goal of violating my civil rights?

    The point being — and I could swear I just saw this article here, but maybe it was a different blog — if you don't like being referred to as The Government, then don't work for the government.

    The government is surveilling me. Government employees don't want to be themselves surveilled. I am not sympathetic.

  37. Joe Pullen says

    I am trying very hard to muster even the smallest bit of sympathy for these cops . . . . I'm failing miserably.

  38. Frank Rizzo says

    More cameras and the police.


    Miami Gardens police have arrested Sampson 62 times for one offense: trespassing.

    Almost every citation was issued at the same place: the 207 Quickstop, a convenience store on 207th Street in Miami Gardens.

    But Sampson isn’t loitering. He works as a clerk at the Quickstop.

    So how can he be trespassing when he works there?

    It’s a question the store’s owner, Alex Saleh, 36, has been asking for more than a year as he watched Sampson, his other employees and his customers, day after day, being stopped and frisked by Miami Gardens police. Most of them, like Sampson, are poor and black.