Politics

02.25.14

Stand Your Ground With Your Smartphone

If law enforcement can track people with impunity, why not fight fire with fire and record the police?

Yesterday’s paper brought yet another amazing story from the alternative universe that is Florida. In the land of jai alai and alligators, where “stand-your-ground laws ” are considered by many to be a legitimate defense for shooting people, it seems that recording a conversation with a cop will land you in jail.

As the Sun-Sentinel reports, 33-year old Brandy Sherling was stopped by a Broward County, Florida sheriff’s deputy for a minor traffic violation.  When she told the officer she was recording the conversation on her smart phone, he demanded she give him the phone and told her (erroneously) that she was committing a felony by recording him. The argument went on for over four minutes. Finally the officer pushed Ms. Sherling from her car, twisting her arm and spraining her wrist in the process. She spent a night in jail—but was never charged. Now she’s suing. Good for her.

Oh, not because she’s going to get a ton of taxpayer’s cash from Broward County. Because she shows us the way we Americans will ultimately protect our freedom and civil rights in a nation where the desire for security now trumps the Bill of Rights.

From the NSA sweeping up metadata to local police scanning license plates, the authorities believe they have carte blanche to surveil us. So as they spy on us, we have a civic duty to return the favor - just like Brandy did with her smartphone. 

You see, the only real safeguard we have against this new wave of creeping, technology-driven totalitarianism is to expose the abuses, and create tidal waves of public outrage.  The surveillance community instinctively understands how powerful and deeply ingrained our distrust of government “security” runs, even in red states. Justice Scalia, certainly no liberal, penned the 2012 Supreme Court opinion in United States v. Jones, which found the warrantless use of GPS auto tracking devices violated the Fourth Amendment.

So as they spy on us, we have a civic duty to return the favor—just like Brandy did with her smartphone.

In spite of this Supreme Court ruling, the Department of Homeland Security went right ahead with a national license-plate tracking proposal that was even more sweeping in scope. It was only after the public uproar following media reports about the plan that DHS was forced to beat a hasty and undignified retreat. They didn’t even feign a pretense of national security; they just said, in effect, “Oops – our bad.”

So it is clear that only “We the People” have the power to rein in overzealous intrusions upon our constitutionally guaranteed rights. Every time we pull back the curtain on the government voyeurs, they are forced to back down—and quickly.

This American revulsion against the government’s heavy hand is not a new fad created by Edward Snowden’s stolen NSA documents. Way back in 1990, while I was managing a gubernatorial race in Kentucky, fear of violent crime was the leading campaign issue. Our worst nightmare was to be painted as “soft on crime,” so in our research, we asked groups of voters if they would support installing video recorders in state police cars. We thought this would be a very popular way to get tough on drunk drivers.

On the night of May 14, 1988 a drunken sot drove his pickup truck down the wrong side of Kentucky’s Interstate 71 and crashed head-on into a school bus carrying 63 children home from a church outing. The bus burst into flames and 24 children burned to death. Three adult chaperones were also killed, and the 12 kids who lived suffered terrible burns. To this day that tragic crash remains the most horrible drunk driving tragedy in our nation’s history. The public was outraged, and we believed we had a winning issue.

And so we did—just not in the way we’d thought.  Every focus group—men, women, black, white, Appalachian coal miners and Louisville bankers—all said the same thing:  

“Yeah, then the cops can’t beat people up!” 

This was before Rodney King, mind you. We were shocked at the time, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson.

So, thank you, Brandy Sherling. You have shown us the way. Now it’s up to each and every one of us as free Americans. Do your civic duty: Take out your smartphones, America, and stand your ground for freedom.