Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Our Transportation Facilities Are Being Watched

I don't know if this will make you feel better or scare the hell out of you. I'm on the fence about it.

I was out taking pictures this morning of sites of transportation projects to be completed over the next twenty years. One of those projects is to move of the weigh station near Stateline further east along I-90. I stopped at the pretty much deserted weigh station and took a couple pictures, then drove off. About 10 minutes later I received a call on my cell phone from Washington State Patrol asking why I had been taking pictures of the weigh station!

It took just minutes for them to run my license plate and track down my cell phone number! Everything was fine after I explained why I was taking pictures and I guess it makes me feel a little better to know that someone is watching the people who are watching our infrastructure. On the other hand, it kind of scares me that they could track me down that fast.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

That is bullshit, Plain And Simple. We take pictures every day, they're called memories. Why would using a camera or phone to take a pic be any different?

Reid said...

I'd write or better yet call your congresscritter (and mine, Cathy McMorris Rodgers). What strikes me as disturbing/odd about this is indeed how quickly you were tracked down.

I wonder if a paper-trail was left by the folks that tracked you down? In ten minutes, I somehow doubt it. If there was some kind of trail left that can be overseen by folks, I'm more okay with it. If it's possible for police to look up records like your name/cell number without following any kind of documentation procedure, I'd start getting worried -- that kind of authority is just begging to be abused. I'd also ask your phone company if it is their policy to share your name/phone number without a warrant ;-).

darkmane said...

The scary part is that somehow they got your cell # that quickly.

Thomas J. Brown said...

I've been watching this all-photographers-are-terrorists trend pretty closely, but was surprised to see a story that hit so close to home!

I have to agree with the first (anonymous) comment: this is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Not only is a weigh station a highly unlikely terrorist target, but the speed with which the State Patrol was able to track you down is frightening.

I've had a lot of time to form ideas in my head about what I'll do when confronted for harmless and legal photography, and now it seems as though I may soon be thrust into a situation where I will be forced to choose between my constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and freedom itself.

I know others have said it before, but "police state." This is not the America in which I want my children to grow up.

romulusnr said...

Why is it okay that they do this? Is it okay because you were "approved" to take pictures because you're a state employee? Did you have to undergo special psychological evaluation or security investigation in order to get your job taking pictures for the county? How can I get "approved" to take pictures of *public buildings* ?

Anonymous said...

For the record, it's conceivably quite simple for them to be able to track you down, simply by using information that is publicly available. For example, they use the motor vehicles database to run your plate. This is perfectly within their purview to do. Once they have your name and address they can simply do a Lexis-Nexis or Choice Point (both public databases with information compiled through consumer reports) search and find your cell phone number.

It doesn't take Chloe on "24" to to such a simple trace and it's certainly nothing out of the ordinary.

Anonymous said...

I just hope all the whiners on here are just as vocal when it comes to the myriad number of actual crimes of violence that are committed everyday in this country.

If you don't want your children to grow up in a world like this be as active helping police to keep the community free of predators as you are in playing monday morning quarterback whenever you feel that the authority has overstepped its bounds. If the government doesn't keep you safe then you bitch, and when they make legitimate attempts to, you bitch.

Contribute to the solutions or STFU.

sir said...

oh, come on, people, that "they" will spemd that kind of resources on this kind of 'infraction' is frightening beyond belif, with kids going hungry a couple of doorsteps away...bullshit!

Maurice said...

Dear Third Anonymous, I find it highly ironic that you speak about how it's not a big deal to be tracked and contacted by the police for something as innocuous as taking some pictures yet you choose to post anonymously.

I also like how you invoked children in your comment, because "WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN????" and since you mentioned children I'll say that as the father of two small children I would rather they grow up in a country enjoying their liberties then constantly under surveillance.

And you know, I'd be happy if the government spent more time working on the real crimes like fraud, assault, rape, and murder and less time watching who's photographing a weigh station.

Scott Anderson said...

I've got to disagree with Anonymous. We don't whine when they don't protect us. Well, some do. but they're ignorant.

Giving the government carte blanc to scrutinize our every movement and activity is not the answer to securing our freedoms.

The belief that people taking pictures in public with cameras are a security risk, makes about as much sense as trying to build a border fence.

It's grandstanding - albeit dangerous grandstanding.

Does anyone really believe that building a few hundred miles of fence between Texas and Mexico will stop people who want to come here? How, exactly, are we going to build a fence around our beaches and oceans? And where is the border fence with Canada?

There are thousands of activities the police ought to be following up on - taking pictures is not one of them.

Anonymous said...

This so-called super vigilance does not increase the protection of the public one iota. It does give those in marginal positions of authority the opportunity to strut their power and inflict their ill-mannered sense of semi-professionalism on an unsuspecting and innocent public.

Maybe America deserves the treatment it's getting from the government it wants.

Prisons make money and using tasers on people without justification is just plain fun. Smacking people for taking photos in plain sight and in public sounds like a great way to feel important.

It's the conservative legacy: folly, incompetence, repression.

Anonymous said...

Everyone knows how fascinating weigh stations are to terrorists.

Garrett said...

I'm surprised that nobody has yet linked to the Photographer's Right brochure: http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm

I haven't needed it yet, but the way things are going around here...

Greg Paul said...

I propose an experiment to see how even-handed the intent of "the Gummint" is...

Go back to that weigh station and stage a mock crime, oh say a carjacking or smash-and-grab from a parked car...and see how long the Man takes to follow up on that one, if the even deign to do so at all. Go ahead - see what (if anything) happens!

My bet is that the money and kudos go to those who can prove some connection between their law enforcement organization and anti-terrorism.

This is where the cash nexus is, so is it any wonder law enforcement is fixated on these "threats" because it justifies the Federal funds they get from Homeland Security?

Thomas J. Brown said...

I'd like to echo what has already been said in response to the third anonymous comment.

What hasn't been said, but should be, is that hassling people who are taking pictures is not the government making a "legitimate attempt" to keep us safe. It's akin to banning liquids on airplanes, or putting National Guardsmen in the airports after 9/11 – it doesn't stop terrorism at all.

Moreover, those of us who bitch are contributing solutions, albeit in a fairly passive way. We're creating awareness that the government is "protecting" us in ways that compromise our freedoms. We're attempting to educate others on their rights when hassled for taking holiday snaps. We're getting the message out to the government that there are people who are not willing to buckle under and have their rights trod upon.

To that end, in my previous post I hinted at, but didn't explicitly say, that I would rather be illegally arrested than knowingly give up my rights. You can bet there'd be a shit-storm to follow.

@garrett - I recently went to a copyright/trademark seminar as an audience member, and ended up being able to answer a couple of questions that they speaker wasn't because I had that in my wallet.

Anonymous said...

This is simple CYA. The cops can't not follow up on a complaint. The real problem is the environment of fear where the weigh station employees felt so threatened by someone taking pictures that they called the state patrol. It's ironic that all this extra "security" (dhs, tsa, etc) doesn't make people feel more secure...

Thomas J. Brown said...

^^^ If this is the weigh station I'm thinking of, it's operated by the State Patrol (or at the very least, there are always State Patrol officers there).

bedlamite23 said...

http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm

public database use or not, taking photographs of anything from or on public property is NOT a crime. The link above should be in every photographers bag.

Anonymous said...

The simplest solution is usually correct.

The weigh station on I-90 was most likely under survelliance.

Possibly for gay sex sting? truck stops / rest areas ARE being monitored.

Guy drives up - In a government car? Government Plates? to a site under survelliance and takes a picture and leaves.

Tracking down a government plate to a government employee to his KNOWN phone....

Wow our privacy is REALLY jeapordized by this....

Kelly - Portland Oregon

Thomas J. Brown said...

@Kelly - He doesn't say that he was driving a government car, although I had considered that. If he was, it would certainly help explain how they got his mobile number so fast.

Even then, why would they care if a government employee was taking pictures of a government facility?

Oh wait, I forgot, all photographers are terrorists.

SRTC Staff said...

Okay, just to clear a few things up, I was NOT driving a government car, nor am I a man. I was driving my personal car and it was my personal cell phone they called me on. I was also wearing a suit and heels, but maybe that's what scared people. Maybe 'the man' gets nervous when he sees a well dressed woman drive up and take pictures :)

Anyway, it was the fact that they could track me down on my OWN phone driving my OWN car in such a short time that freaked me out.

Also, remember this is a government-sponsored website and please watch our language. Please don't give my boss an excuse to pull the plug, it took a little convincing to let him start this blog in the first place :)

Kelly said...

25 years ago while attending the Defense Language Institute, my fellow soldiers and I were shocked at the stories we heard from our Russian language teachers about their lives in the Soviet Union. They told of ID checks to move about the country, ratting out suspicious looking people, people held in gulags without due process, political prisoners, etc.. Yes, we continue to be much more free and open than the old Soviet Union, but we're headed down the wrong road. Quit being afraid. Don't trade liberty for a false sense of safety. One of the costs of an open society is that we assume greater risk that bad guys can more easily move about our country. So be it.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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Thomas J. Brown said...

I think that anonymous poster might be a terrorist!

That's a joke, by the way.

And sorry to the author; before I even typed, "he," I knew I would be getting it wrong.

The anonymous commenter seems not to have a sense of his (or her?) own hypocrisy. What part of "you're just whiners" doesn't apply to you? You seem to be doing more bellyaching than most people here.

I'll give you that most people are morons, and that many of us live relatively safe and comfortable lives. However, until you come out of hiding and reveal what you know about the situation and how you toil daily to protect our way of life, you're no less self-righteous than the rest of us.

Oh, and Nazis, Nazis, Nazis. (I just thought we should invoke Godwin's law now and get it out of the way.)

Maurice said...

Anonymous. I'm amused that you'd call me an idiot for my comments instead of trying to have an adult conversation.

I don't have any delusions about the government spying on me. I doubt very highly that I'm the target of any program or agency that watches my every move.

What I have seen, however, is a lot of anecdotes about photographers getting harassed, arrested, or in this case contacted, by the police for the simple act of taking pictures. The actions of the police are always defended by people both in law enforcement, and people like you, as necessary for the public safety.

It's silly for the government to waste their time and resources chasing down photographers who are engaging in the jobs and hobbies because of on the off chance a terrorist will take a picture of a public street, or a highway, or a building. There are so many better things the government could be doing, to help the needy, to help the sick, to help the hurt, and to help the threatened.

And my own comfort level has nothing to do with any of this.

Take care.

SRTC Staff said...

Regretably we had to delete a couple of anonymous posts to ensure civility on this blog

"SRTC reserves the right to screen, edit, and remove posts as it deems appropriate."

Profanity is one thing, but when posters resort to name calling and demeaning other posters on the thread it never results in positive discourse, which is why we publish this blog.

Anonymous said...

I guess proactive policing is anti-American but censorship isn't. Have fun.

PS: there was No profanity or personal attacks in the post.

Anonymous said...

Hi kids!

Calling your reps won't change anything - privacy is gone for good. It was in the way.

Apparently it isn't common knowledge yet, but cellphones have been easily tracked in real-time by law enforcement for some time.

In fact, your cell phone records can be procured without a warrant.

The courts decided that as long as the data turned over was more than a minute old, it doesn't constitute an invasion of your privacy.

Of course, along with all of your calls and approximate locations over the last year or so, it's pretty easy to predict where you'll be next.

Don't you watch the news?
Lots of stories about how quickly unknown car thieves were caught after running away from the police.

You can easily search these records and find out who was near you (it takes a bit longer), where you go, when you went and who your friends and associates are.

State level agencies can't easily get into your emails yet, but it's coming soon enough. And your web browsing habits, thanks to the ever popular "terrorist/pedo" problem.

Of course, the real-time database is tied to your WA drivers license, your car's plate number and indirectly to your credit report.

Look at your next licensing tab renewal form and ask why they want to know who the drivers are.

WA is ahead of schedule in the centralization of info for LE and government, but this is actually true in most states.

Of course, since it's easy to link call histories, we can run a few more queries and identify everyone you socialize or work with...

BTW, where did you think the funding for SRTC came from? Do you read any of the trade magazines laying on the desks in the office?

Every issue has articles on reading license plates and data-mining the information.

But seriously, don't worry about this stuff. These guys were only following orders.

Lantern Bearer said...

Everyday photogs seem like low hanging fruit. I like to stop and look at the harbor, docks and ship fitters yards once in a while. If you stop to take a look it doesn't take long for the cities finest to pull up an tell you to move along. My early trade was intelligence. It was far more important to catalog and rule out than to jump at every opportunity to tip your hand. It is always better to draw a picture than to jump on every opportunity to fly the flag. Goon behavior is not security.

green libertarian said...

What would have interesting would be if Staci had refused, as I believe it was her right, to answer ANY questions posed to her from law enforcement. What would the police do then? Find and detain her for "questioning"? In what way does the concepts of reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause have bearing on this situation?

I discount the arguments that this incident, as described, diverted significant resources better spent in some other law enforcement activity, I mean it took a matter of minutes, it's not in the least surprising that the police can quickly get your phone number once they have your name and ID info from vehicle registration and the DMV. I'm not saying it's necessarily right, but there's no trick to it.

Anonymous said...

Moral of the story don't use their cell phones.

SRTC Staff said...

Cell phones give you cancer anyway don't they?, so maybe Anonymous has a point. Just kidding, just perpetuating an urban legend :)

Tina said...

Good Job! :)

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About SRTC

SRTC is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Spokane County. Urbanized areas with populations exceeding 50,000 people are required to have an MPO. SRTC was formed to address the county's transportation planning needs. It provides coordination in planning between the public, cities, small towns, the county, the state, transit providers, and tribes.

SRTC offers services including transportation monitoring, transportation modeling, census information analysis, travel demand forecasting, historical traffic count analysis, geographic information systems, and trip generation rates.