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Privacy Issue: Pools in Riverhead, etc.

Update, September 9, 2010: The Town decided to end their program of using Google Earth to locate residents’ pools. Story at Newsday: here.

Kimberly writes:

The Town of Riverhead in Long Island has been using Google Earth to spy on residents and discover if they have pools without permits. There are so many layers of things wrong with this strategy. An article excerpted below, and at Fosters.com, spells it out pretty well. It is a violation of privacy and Constitutional Rights.

What is a citizen to do?

I hope that all of the citizens of Riverhead will realize that they should challenge these laws. They should complain at Town Board meetings, run candidates against town officials who condone this, and consider lawsuits against the town.

Though, I have another very practical strategy. Give it right back to them.

How can you use Google Earth against Riverhead Town elected officials and staff members?

Riverhead residents who feel violated, should consider their own Googling of names, addresses and images of Riverhead Town officials and staff involved in this spying-against-citizens scheme. Wonder if any of them have unpermitted pools? Wonder if any of them have untaxed structures on their property? Or, maybe just a rundown property that would be embarrassing to be posted on your blog or Facebook page.

Speaking of Facebook, maybe some of those officials have Facebook pages that can be used to mine their information in a similar way to how they mined yours. You can check their friends and family and see if there is a pattern of nepotism in their hiring.

Don’t forget that governments have rules to provide the public with “Freedom of Information”. The Town of Riverhead wants to know about you. Learn about them. File some FOIL requests (Freedom of Information Law letters/forms, submitted to the town with requests for specific documents.) If the Town wants to spy on and reach out to citizens, reach back. (It will cost you 25 cents a page, so think about what would be helpful to your cause.) Make sure that all the Town’s work is done precisely. Ask for budget papers, minutes of meetings you missed. Make a Freedom of Information Request showing documents that initiated the pool program. Was it voted on at a board meeting? Was there a memo or proposal sent up from one department to another?

For help with questions about FOIL requests, you can contact the Committee on Open Government, a very helpful office of the NYS Department of State.

Too many times, citizens feel like victims in the wake of government abuse. Think out of the box. They are spying in your backyard. Consider what you can do to shut their behavior down fast.

(And, then, please do get a permit for your pool. And, make sure it is locked up carefully. Pool safety is important. It is just that privacy concerns and Constitutional Rights are pretty darned important, too.)

(excerpt from) Fosters.com
Privacy must not be a thing of the past

Friday, August 6, 2010

…The courts have long held that, with limited exception, there needs to be probable cause and sufficient notice given to conduct searches.

Technology, however, has thrown that concept to the wind — at least in part.

Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press that Google Earth was promoted as an aid to curious travelers but has become a tool for cash-hungry local governments.

“The technology is going so far ahead of what people think is possible, and there is too little discussion about community norms,” she concluded.

There is no indication from Riverhead officials as to whether anyone will be filing a lawsuit for invasion of privacy. But at some point such a case needs to make its way to the courts, unless public officials have the discussion Coney refers to.

In the meantime, readers would be advised to take a look at their own property on Google Earth to see in what way their privacy may already be invaded as well…

Related issues would be red light cameras, helicopter traffic tickets, and drones used for civilian law enforcement. All of these are problematic ways that government is trying to spy on regular citizens and cut us off at the path in terms of our Constitutional Rights.

Here is a story about someone challenging a red light camera:

(excerpt from) Fox News
Red Light Camera Unconstitutional?
Former Judge Filing Lawsuit In Wife’s Defense

Tuesday, 10 Aug 2010, 6:48 AM EDT

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A former judge who’s fighting his wife’s two traffic fines claims Nassau County’s red-light camera system is unconstitutional.

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