Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Janet Napolitano's Record on Privacy Not So Good

As we continue to wrestle with that all important intersection between civil liberties and technology - one that is becoming more and more difficult to navigate - the importance of understanding how government officials view that issue, and privacy itself, only grows.

Accordingly, there are few public offices of greater importance as related to privacy, technology, and civil liberties than the head of the Homeland Security Department. Thomas Frank - an author I admire greatly - takes this issue on in a recent article in the USA Today I found to be particularly enlightening.

Gov. Janet Napolitano is of course President-elect Barack Obama's pick to run the Homeland Security Department, and she has been an enthusiastic advocate for advanced security technology as a law enforcement tool, raising concerns among civil liberties groups that warn about privacy invasion while drawing praise from law enforcement organizations.

Frank writes:

As Arizona's Democratic governor since 2003, Napolitano has:
Pushed state police to use cameras that scan license plates of moving cars to find vehicles that are stolen or linked to a criminal suspect.
Promoted "face-identification" technology that could help surveillance cameras find wanted people by comparing someone's face with a photo database of suspects.
• Signed a 2007 bill making Arizona one of 12 states that collect and store DNA samples of people accused but not convicted of certain crimes, including murder, burglary, sexual assault and prostitution.
Proposed an optional state ID for legal citizens only that features a radio-frequency chip to allow authorities to read the card. State lawmakers blocked the effort this year.

"She sees technology as the panacea of all our law enforcement problems and immigration issues," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, head of Arizona's American Civil Liberties Union chapter. "It's like she's embracing these technologies without taking the time to appreciate the privacy implications."


If confirmed as Homeland Security secretary, Napolitano will have opportunities to deploy technology, including sensors along U.S. borders and airport body scanners that look for weapons on passengers by taking images underneath clothing.

It appears that by the least privacy advocates will have their work cut out for them in the coming years on a host of issues ranging from "face identification" technologies to collection of DNA samples to airport body scanners to technology driven border patrol.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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