Friday, January 07, 2005

Stakeouts, IDs for drunks = slippery slopes

Coming soon, to a parked car in the shadows up the street from your house, the DUI Blog informs us of perhaps the most ridiculously wasteful use of police manpower of which I've ever heard: Stakeouts of individual drunks -- like, outside their homes on weekend nights. The President recommended it (or rather his national commission on drunk driving did), and now states are beginning to take him up on it.

Forget the civil liberties aspects (which are legion); that's just wasteful and dumb.

The examples of this tactic in use are from California, but I don't get it. Unless police are just looking for the most Big Brotherish strategies they can find, this seems like a poor option. I was under the impression that California required breathalyzer "ignition interlocks" on the steering wheel after DUIs so drunks have to blow clean to drive. Apparently that method only works some of the time, but when I heard it described by experts in legislative hearings in 2001 and 2003, I thought that was a brilliant solution that should pretty much take care of the problem for probationers while the technology is in place.

Instead, though, there seems to be a growing fascination with Big-Brother-style solutions. This article calls for making drivers licenses swipable and requiring a valid license be swiped inside the car before it could turn on. That way, drunks whose licenses are suspended could not start their vehicle. Egregiously, Oak Ridge National Labs sees this as a wedge issue through which to promote the idea of a national ID card:

"American society historically resists excessive government intervention and Big Brother programs that threaten to invade privacy," [ORNL's Pat] Hu says. "One of the biggest challenges to implementing electronic driver’s licenses will be to secure widespread public acceptance and community support." Hu thinks that the U.S. public will be more likely to accept this technology if it is first demonstrated on high-risk drivers. "Targeting a demonstration project at drivers who might have fewer privacy 'rights,' such as convicted DUI offenders, might reduce public concern about invasion of privacy," she says.
That's pretty sneaky; basically they're hoping to construct the slippery slope ahead of time, starting with "drivers who might have fewer privacy 'rights'" -- notice they place "rights" in quotes.

First they came for the drunks, but I wasn't a drunk so I did not speak up.

Ignition interlocks for probationers, financing mandatory treatment, and other targeted methods are available to stem drunk driving without restricting the rights of non-offenders, and with a manpower ratio somewhat less than one-cop-per-drunk. That is, if lessening drunk driving is really the goal.

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