Over the Easter weekend my family and I drove from Atlanta to my mom’s house on the Rappahannock River in Virginia. It’s a 10-hour trip, and covers some of the nation’s most heavily-policed interstates. Even on Easter Sunday, radar-wielding cops were everywhere, trying to grab a bit of revenue for their state or county.
I’ve always found it ironic that the most fiercely anti-government parts of the U.S. — such as the section we traversed, including Georgia, both Carolinas and southern Virginia — also tend to be reflexively pro-police. Many people seem to regard state troopers and county sheriffs’ departments as second only to “the troops” in the hero-worship stakes.
It’s ironic … but also alarming, when you consider that some of the worst abusers of our liberties come from amongst the ranks of such “heroes”…
Government Secrets … and Yours
Technology can be used on both sides of the privacy fence. Over the next few months I’m going show you some simple solutions that can protect your own privacy — and wealth — from the government. Believe me — you need this information more than ever.
I’ll start with a tool I used on the drive to my mom’s: an app for your iPhone or Android called Waze.
Waze combines a digital map with social media-style user input on road conditions such as traffic, construction and weather. As you drive, you report road conditions verbally — “traffic jam,” “pothole,” etc. User input is combined to create a real-time picture of driving conditions for everyone’s benefit.
One of Waze’s most popular features is a little mustachioed head in a blue hat and dark sunglasses — a policeman. That means there’s a speed trap up ahead. On my recent trip, I reported several lurking police cars, and received dozens of in-app “Thanks!” from other users. (My personal data isn’t included in Waze because I set it up with an anonymous user profile, as always.)
And that’s precisely why the National Sheriffs’ Association — the other “NSA” — wants Waze banned.
Apparently it’s fine for government to know everything about you, but it’s not OK for you to know something about the government … such as where a policeman might be lurking on the road. That’s an intolerable threat to “freedom.” The sheriffs’ NSA worries, in an hysterical tone, that “The Waze app can be used to pinpoint officers and provide those persons intent on committing a crime one more tool to avoid law enforcement and perpetrate a crime! Our major concern with this feature is for the safety of all law enforcement officers working the streets protecting the communities they serve!” (Exclamations in the original.)
Predictably, “terrorist and homegrown lone wolf attacks” are cited as the key reason why you shouldn’t be allowed to know where other people have seen police in public places.
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto
Anybody who grew up more or less when I did will remember radar detectors. They were little boxes that lit up and squealed when a cop trained his radar gun on the road in front of you. Cops hated those too, and managed to get them banned in many states. And that was long before the terrorism bogeyman.
Despite the frenzied imagery of terrorism and vulnerable cops, the sheriffs’ objections to smartphone apps like Waze are rooted in the same logic as their opposition to old-fashioned analogue radar detectors. Cops want to be able to see you but not the other way around. It makes their jobs easier.
But there’s something else besides the technology that makes the current battle over cop-avoidance very different from the old days. Back then the police didn’t use roadside stops as excuses to steal our money, cars and other possessions.
My father Bob Bauman and I have written extensively about civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize and keep property of individuals and businesses without a criminal conviction. The bulk of such forfeitures occur during routine traffic stops, when cops seize cash on the pretext that it “must” be the proceeds of a drug crime.
Civil asset forfeitures grew by almost 1000% since 2002, and now total almost $5 billion per annum. In 85% of civil forfeiture cases, the property owner is never charged with a crime but still doesn’t get his or her property back. On average, 12,000 to 15,000 people lose their property to arbitrary government seizure every year, and the number is growing by double digits annually.
Now, I ask you: Why do you think the nation’s sheriffs hate Waze so much? And when are you going to install it on your phone? Given statistics like these, it should definitely be before your next road trip.
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor