Thursday, August 7, 2008

Metal theft bill amended to protect privacy

Here's a piece of legislation in California that had slipped under my radar. Thankfully, its because of improvements related to the privacy protection of consumers that it caught my eye. The bill is designed to crack down on metal theft - which is a widespread problem according to bill supporters - and recently cleared a key Senate committee after the author amended the measure to increase privacy protection for scrap sellers.

Now, I'm the last person that would ever claim to be a metal expert, or a metal theft expert for that matter. But, according to the article, $6 million in metal was stolen statewide in 2006. These stolen products range from copper wire on farm pumps to parts of a hospital's radiation machine and cemetery urns, affecting the emotional and physical health as well safety of people using 911, night lights at parks and farms' wind machines.

Many supporters of the bill - including law enforcement - blame much of the problem on drug addicts stealing metal to make quick sales for cash to buy more drugs.

Okay, so what does this have to do with privacy you probably are asking (and I am too)?

Let's go to the article in the Visalia Times Delta for the answer:

The Senate Public Safety Committee passed Assembly Bill 844 after it was amended to restrict the release of a thumbprint that scrap dealers must obtain from sellers of metals such as copper, stainless steel and aluminum other than beverage containers.

...its primary opponent, the American Civil Liberties Union, continued to oppose the measure even while conceding that the amendments were an improvement. "We object to government having business collect the fingerprints of their customers," said ACLU lobbyist Tiffany Mok.

The amendment requires a court-ordered warrant before a dealer must release a seller's thumb print.


Right now, dealers are supposed to keep a written record of sales or purchases that include place and date of sale, name, driver's license number and state, license plate number and state, plus description of the junk metal. AB 844 would add a thumbprint to records dealers must keep and require them to pay most sellers by check or delay cash payment for three days to allow for possible theft reports.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on this, but as I've said before, here, and to the press, that I am always a bit skeptical when the failed and ever expanding "war on drugs" (and sometimes crime, or both) is used as an argument to rationalize the continued assault on the individuals right to privacy.

Click here for the full article.

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