Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Science fiction and the reality of today's private police

I am a science fiction junky. I can read it with the absolute ability to believe it is real and submerge myself totally into the story. SciFi is simply a foretelling of what will happen in my eyes.

Today that foretelling is rather bothersome.

One of the many themes that runs through a lot of stories involve the future development of industry and their individual powers. Not just financial power but basic physical power. Armed raw power backed by guns and cuffs. I'm not talking about the mall ninjas that sit at the entrance to the mall and threatens you with the standard "stop, or I'll say stop again". No. I'm talking about police with the ability to dress up like the shock troop outfits that the ATFE, FBI, and other alphabet soup agencies enjoy.

In the stories the company police have the support and total backing of the government. These private police, while having to answer to the law in their actions, know that they work for, and serve, the company. Serving a company and enforcing the law creates a conflict in my eyes. You can only serve one master is the phrase that comes to mind.

So today I was reading about the FedEx and how they are bending over to help the police. This article also mentioned other companies that are also falling in line to help the state. The victim is our privacy. But that does not seem to be a large issue with the government today.
Before Sept. 11, 2001, when federal law-enforcement officials asked FedEx Corp. for help, the company had its limits. It wouldn't provide access to its databases. It often refused to lend uniforms or delivery trucks to agents for undercover operations, citing fears of retribution against employees as well as concerns about customer privacy.
Federal agents privately praise Western Union for sharing information with Treasury and Homeland Security investigators about overseas money transfers. Time Warner Inc.'s America Online has set up a dedicated hotline to help police officers seeking AOL subscriber information and also proffers advice about wording subpoenas. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has a sophisticated supply-chain security system, has been helping U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents figure out how to better track international shipping, say Homeland Security officials.
Now you may feel that helping to fight terrorism is the highest act that you can do today, But at what price. The FedEx may be a prime example of what happens when a company goes to far into serving the state while the cost of privacy is suffered by you and me.
In December 2001, according to court records in Illinois, a FedEx driver became suspicious after making a series of deliveries of boxes to an apartment complex in suburban Chicago. The cartons were always the same size and shape and came from the same address in Los Angeles. Worried there was something sinister afoot, the driver informed his bosses and FedEx called the police.

Suspecting narcotics or explosives, the police showed up at the FedEx depot with bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs. The dogs didn't signal there was anything illicit in the boxes. FedEx then invoked the authority granted to it by every customer, which the police don't automatically have, permitting it to inspect any package without a warrant.

With a police officer looking on, FedEx popped the carton. Instead of anything dangerous, the boxes contained several hundred pre-recorded compact discs. Local police launched an investigation that eventually uncovered a CD-bootlegging operation.
Their is something called due process that is a strict ruling that defines what a police officer has to do before he searches you, or a package. So because the company decided something was wrong they did an old run around your rights. The company can open your package, and a cop was there who could not. They both win and your rights lose. This is a super example of why a overly friendly police company relationship can be a dangerous thing.

It was while reading up on the issues of company efforts that I came across something that raised my eye brows. FedEx has its own police force, small yet a lot of influence.
FedEx Corp. has come up with a novel way to battle terrorist threats and other crimes: start its own 10-man police force.

The FedEx cops dress in plain clothes, detective-style, and are accredited by the Tennessee government. They can investigate all types of crimes, request search warrants and make arrests anywhere in the state, although they haven't busted anyone yet, and likely won't.
Tim Edgar, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, questions whether corporate cops can be trusted to act in the public interest, and argues that a watchdog agency should oversee the company's performance. "You're given all the powers of someone accountable to the public, but you're driven by the profit incentives of a private company," he says.
The company wouldn't make the corporate cops available for interviews.

As for questions of inside information, Krause says the company's police can't give other firms a heads-up because they can't share sensitive law-enforcement data. During industry forums, though, FedEx may talk generally about security issues with competitors, she adds.
The bold type in the last paragraph offers me a lot of worry. If they are police then they have the duty to inform other firms if there is an issue they need to know of, but they can't.

But don't worry. FedEx is not the only with its own private forces running around. The RIAA has a few of their own uniformed security.
Though no guns were brandished, the bust from a distance looked like classic LAPD, DEA or FBI work, right down to the black "raid" vests the unit members wore. The fact that their yellow stenciled lettering read "RIAA" instead of something from an official law-enforcement agency was lost on 55-year-old parking-lot attendant Ceasar Borrayo.

The Recording Industry Association of America is taking it to the streets.
With all the trappings of a police team, including pink incident reports that, among other things, record a vendor's height, weight, hair and eye color, the RIAA squad can give those busted the distinct impression they're tangling with minions of Johnny Law instead of David Geffen. And that raises some potential legal questions.
Some just make themselves look like cops. Gives a whole new meaning to hands on customer service

Private firms should not have the legal powers that the police have. Most police should not have the powers that police have. A very dangerous line has been crossed people in the name of fighting terrorism. I don't like it and neither should you.

The article quoted one specific line from the law. "substantially equivalent". I'm glad because after spending 20 minutes looking on the Tn LexisNexis site I realized they buried this law deep. Luckily there were only 18 hits on "substantially equivalent" and only one in 2004 when the law was passed. Turns out they are more then police. They are Homeland security officers in all of their glory.

Here is the law that does not mention FedEx.
38-3-114. Acting as peace officers for the office of homeland security.
(a) The office of homeland security may apply to the commissioner of the Tennessee department of safety, to commission such number of its officers who directly support state, federal, and local law enforcement activities involved in countering or responding to acts of terrorism, as the office shall designate, to act as peace officers for the office of homeland security.
(b) The commissioner, upon such application, may appoint such person as the office of homeland security designates, or as many people as the governor deems proper to be such peace officers, and shall give commissions to those appointed.
(c) Each such officer, throughout every county in the state, shall have and exercise, for the sole purpose of carrying out the scope of assigned duties as specified or limited within the exclusive judgment of the office of homeland security, all the powers of a peace officer, including the power to make arrests for public offenses anywhere in the state. Further, such officers may serve process in criminal and penal prosecutions for such offenses, and shall have authority to carry weapons for the reasonable purposes of their offices and while in the performance of their assigned duties.
(d) The keepers of jails in any county or municipality where a violation occurs, for which any such arrest is made by an officer of the homeland security office, shall receive all persons arrested by such officers to be dealt with according to law, and persons so arrested shall be received by keepers of jails on the same basis and shall have the same status as prisoners arrested by any other law enforcement officer.
(e) Every officer so appointed shall, when on duty, have in the officer's possession a badge and identification card identifying such officer as an officer of the office of homeland security, and such officer shall exhibit such badge and identification card on demand and before making an arrest within a reasonable time.
(f) When the office of homeland security no longer requires the services of such peace officer so appointed, it shall file a notice to that effect with the commissioner's office. Thereupon, the powers of such peace officer shall cease and terminate.
(g) Homeland security officers appointed under this section must complete appropriate initial training and recurrent law enforcement training substantially equivalent to the requirements of the Tennessee peace officers standards and training commission.
There is just something not right about a private police force like this. You may rightly feel I am seeing to much in the shadows, but it feels wrong on a lot of levels.

So you better return those videos on time. Or else.

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