Thursday, February 28, 2013
OLYMPIA — What do state Reps. Jason Overstreet of Bellingham and Sharon Tomiko Santos of South Seattle have in common?
Besides nearly nothing?
And Moxee Rep. David Taylor and Des Moines Rep. Dave Upthegrove?
About the same.
So when some of the Legislature’s most-conservative members join up with some of its most liberal to take controversial — and gutsy — positions on issues relating to government power and civil liberties, it’s hard not to take notice.
Republican Overstreet and Democrat Santos are prime sponsors of House Bill 1581 with the unwieldy yet intriguing title: “An act relating to creating the Washington state preservation of liberty act condemning the unlawful detention of United States citizens and lawful resident aliens under the national defense authorization act.”
The other sponsors are 11 Republicans and eight Democrats. The bill, which died in the House Public Safety Committee, would have made it a crime for a state or local official or employee to cooperate in the investigation or arrest of citizens or residents by U.S. armed forces.
The section of the defense authorization act at issue is one that authorizes the military to detain terrorists, including those suspected to be supported by al-Qaida or the Taliban.
Does that make sponsors pro-terrorist? Or does it reinforce decades of U.S. law that the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are not to be used as law enforcement agencies within the country?
House Bill 1771, with Republican Taylor as prime sponsor and Upthegrove among eight Democrats who signed on, is a reaction to the recent concern over the use of unmanned aircraft by police agencies. These increasingly small-yet-capable aircraft are dubbed “Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles” if you think they’re cool and drones if you don’t.
The bill would restrict the use of photo surveillance by drones — sorry, I mean UAVs — by cops. It would require a search warrant with specifics as to what information is sought and why.
It would demand that information on unsuspected people be destroyed immediately. Even information on those who were targets of the silent flyovers must be destroyed if no charges are filed.
Bill backers say these aircraft need special restrictions because unlike police helicopters or planes, they’re small and mostly silent.
Opponents, mostly in law enforcement, say the technology is so new that the Legislature should wait before restricting them. As written, for example, the bill would even ban use in areas where there is no expectation of privacy — stadiums and shopping center parking lots.
The bill passed out of committee with just a single no vote.
Odd then that lawmakers seem so concerned about photo surveillance from drones above but are comfortable with cameras on the ground. House Bill 1047 passed the House 78-18 with just four Democrats among those voting no, Upthegrove included.
That bill would change what sponsors have called “an anomaly” in the laws that permitted the use of red-light and school speed-zone cameras. Under this bill, cops could get access to the photos for offenses other than the traffic offenses they were designed for if they first received a warrant from a judge.
The emotional impetus for the change is the unsolved shooting of a woman in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Investigators think nearby traffic cameras might have captured an image of the shooter but are prohibited from looking.
Limitations aren’t an anomaly of the traffic light law, however — they’re a promise. Concerns over creating a surveillance society led to restrictions on the use of the images.
Only traffic offenses can be targeted, only images of the cars and license plates and not the drivers can be captured, only traffic tickets can result, and the infraction cannot be reported to insurance companies or appear on driving records.
Hardly a housekeeping measure, HB 1047 is a major public policy change.
Maybe it is a lost cause to think there is a such a thing as personal privacy when so many people casually reveal intimate personal details on Facebook and every phone is a movie studio.
But the coalitions of lawmakers from both the left and the right who are taking unpopular stands show that not everyone is ready to sacrifice individual freedom for collective security.
Peter Callaghan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org