One man parked on the side of the road in Humboldt County, Nev., in May 2000 was brave enough to say no to a police officer when ordered to identify himself.
The officer “just walked up and started demanding my papers,” Larry Hiibel told The Associated Press. “I was there on that road minding my own business.”
He refused and, as a result, was arrested. Now Hiibel may end up redefining our ability to move in public without having every aspect of our lives investigated at the whim of the police.
Such a redefinition is sorely needed. Under current precedent, being ordered to give your name to a police officer, if you are stopped under reasonable suspicion of being involved in a crime, is generally considered a reasonable and minimal intrusion on your privacy and dignity. When the Supreme Court hears the case of Hiibel vs. 6th Judicial District Court, it must consider how the practical consequences of identifying yourself to a police officer have changed given the rise of a seemingly endless number of computerized databases.
Police now potentially have at their disposal such databases as the National Criminal Information Center (which the Justice Department exempted from requirements that data in it be “timely, relevant, complete and accurate”) and the Multistate Anti-TeRrorism Information EXchange (which the American Civil Liberties Union thinks contains some of the data-mining aspects of the controversial and supposedly scuttled Total Information Awareness program).
Demands that you identify yourself are creeping into situations well beyond roadside encounters with police. The Department of Homeland Security is rolling out its Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II program, which will check data on all airline passengers against existing government and private databases to establish what threat level a traveler presents.
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As a recent General Accounting Office report on the program noted, the Department of Homeland Security has not yet worked out a means of redress for citizens detained or prevented from traveling based on the inevitable faulty data that might make them seem suspicious.
We are entering a world in which our day-to-day activities as private citizens leave us vulnerable to an officious police check on every bit of information that any source, public or private, has gathered about us. [Privacy Digest]