Dr. Dawg

Copping data in the surveillance state

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Cop carding.jpg

Never mind the Paraguayan wing of the Conservative government: data is already being collected on you—yeah, you. And there’s nothing hi-tech about it: the cops are doing it old-school.

Just ask Andrew Tysowski, a fourth-year Carleton University student. This past April, he was stopped for running a red light.

Asked if he’d ever been in trouble with the police, Tysowski “confidently said ‘No.’”

But after a computer check in his car, he alleges, the officer came back and called him a liar, because the check turned up a report of a 2006 incident during which the police officer said Tysowski was “an asshole with OC Transpo.”

As it happened, Tysowksi had had a run-in with OC Transpo some time earlier. The “special constables” at a station thought he might be a robbery suspect, quickly realized that he wasn’t, and that was that. Tysowski never gave the matter a second thought.

But now, because the incident was recorded in a data base somewhere, Tysowksi is a designated “asshole”: instead of getting a warning, he got a ticket.

As always, Bill Blair’s Toronto has set a kind of standard for these shenanigans. In that city, an absolutely massive data-gathering exercise appears to have been used to keep the off-white population in particular under strict surveillance.

The technique is simple enough: cops stop people on the streets, interrogate them and record the information on cards—hence the expression “carding.” Between 2008 and mid-20121, a staggering 1.25 million of these “Field Information Reports” were filled out and stored.

The ease with which folks cough up this information, when they are not under arrest, simply amazes me. I would just walk away, and I hope a lot of others would do so as well. It’s entirely legal for cops to ask you questions, but it’s just as legal to refuse to answer.

In any case, the Toronto Police Services Board has found some courage: in a ruling that surprised activists, it has just come down hard on this invidious police activity:

Monitor the controversial police practice of stopping citizens on the street, particularly minority youth, and “carding” them. Make officers give a copy of the gathered information to those they stop. Open police data for review by the city’s auditor general.

That’s what the Toronto Police Services Board is ordering, stunning even the activists who fought for more oversight of carding, which sees hundreds of thousands of people stopped, questioned and documented each year.

The Toronto board’s decision, made earlier this month, is “pretty amazing,” says former mayor John Sewell, a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, a group of concerned citizens who led the drumbeat for change.

All well and good. But these massive data-culls from innocent Canadians shouldn’t even exist. The ones that do exist presently should be purged forthwith. Cops should be ordered to cease and desist; if they do not, citizens should refuse to say a word to any of them. And Ottawa’s Andrew Tysowski is just one of many, I suspect, who can tell us why.

[H/t Kev]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on July 15, 2012 2:19 PM.

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