Monday, September 24, 2012

Identification and Papers Please

This raises the inevitable question of what is a violation of the fourth?
The Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeals has ruled that private contractors operating toll roads on behalf of the state have the power to detain and store records on motorists who pay by cash at toll booths – another example of how using cash is increasingly being treated as a suspicious activity.

Having been held hostage by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the private contractor in charge of the state’s toll road, Faneuil, Inc. at a toll booth last year for paying cash and refusing to have a report filled out on them and their vehicle, Joel, Deborah and Robert Chandler filed suit.

“Under FDOT policies in place at the time, motorists who paid with $50 bills, and occasionally even $5 bills, were not given permission to proceed until the toll collector filled out a “Bill Detection Report” with data about the motorist’s vehicle and details from his driver’s license. Many of those who chose to pay cash did so to avoid the privacy implications of installing a SunPass transponder that recorded their driving habits,” reports TheNewspaper.

“They were likewise unwilling to provide personal information to the toll collector, but they had no alternative because the toll barrier would not be raised without compliance. FDOT policy does not allow passengers to exit their vehicle, and backing up is illegal and usually impossible while other cars wait behind.”

The three-judge panel dismissed the suit, ruling that detaining motorists in order to record details about people who paid by cash was not a constitutional violation and that the state and the contractor could subject motorists to such treatment because, “In Florida, a person’s right and liberty to use a highway is not absolute.”
The problem with much of this line of thinking is that there is never a line of thinking that violates the 4th because we find end runs around them. I'm fairly certain that the argument on this one would be that it's not the state who's detaining the person, but a private company. No one ever addresses the issue - What's a private company doing detaining other private individuals? Of course the answer to that is that they are doing it at the behest of the state, which raises yet another question - How can the state confer powers that it does not possess?!? (The truth is, it cannot) Inevitably the answer comes back, it's policy and this is exactly the case in this situation. It is not state law that is detaining these people, it is policy

This allows both parties to simultaneously avoid blame and get exactly what they want that US Constitutional Law prohibits. Basically the reasoning goes like this -

Company (to private citizen) - We need you to voluntarily wave your 4th Amendment rights.
Citizen - I don't want to do that.
Company - But we need you to do it. (The company may have to comply under terms of its contract, but the citizen is not bound)
Citizen - Are you trying to tell me that I have to do this?
Company - The state does require it.(Implying that this is the law)
Citizen - Which law requires it? (An honest inquiry into the legitimacy of the law)
Company - Look, we don't want a scene, why are you causing a scene?!? (Now implying that the citizen, by exercising his rights is somehow violating the company's rights) We need you to step over here.
Citizen - WHAT? No way, I'm leaving.
Company - You can't. (Not true) In fact, we're calling the state to fix this.
(At this point the citizen falsely believes that the state will act in a judicious, third-party role. Boy is he wrong.)
State, LEO division (Arriving on scene) - What's the problem here?
Company - (Framing the situation) We just want to comply with you, wonderful state, but this guy is preventing us from doing it.
State (To citizen) - Why would you do this, just give the guy what he wants.
(At this point, the citizen is faced with a very difficult choice - Take the chance that this LEO will have half a brain in his head and enforce only the law thereby allowing him to continue OR face possible arrest, trial and imprisonment at the hands of a system that is only interested in getting what it wants.)

Day after day, this exact scenario plays out in airports, highways and other such places where there is interaction between these parties. And when an arrest does occur, typically the state points at the company stating that 'They can't control those renegade companies' and the company points at the state stating likewise. A judge, wanting to appear "TOUGH ON CRIME" sometimes throws these poor saps in jail over a non-existent crime, the shrill harpy women are all too happy to support a dynamic safety effort and the overall net-effect is that another tax payer becomes a tax consumer as he rots in a cell.

 Notes several other important points in this article:
  • The citizen is paying in cash. Something that until recently that was not only considered normal but necessary. 'Oh sure', they say, 'you can pay in cash, we just need you to comply with certain conditions.' (Which is also being driven by the state)
  •  Compliance is seen as being passed through. Data submission may be in-fact mandatory for the company, but the citizen is under no contract or law and thus not legally obligated to provide it. The judge in the case disagrees. Who's opinion counts? The judge.
  • This grants a corporation, the reserved power of detention that only the state possesses. This is the textbook definition of fascism.

And we wonder where we went wrong in this country?

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