In a number of previous posts I’ve discussed the dubious efficacy, statistics and constitutionality of DUI roadblocks, aka "sobriety checkpoints". However, I’ve only briefly mentioned the potential for abusing the right to set up these roadblocks — the potential for government to use them as a pretext to violate citizen’s rights. Consider the following story from yesterday’s Washington Post:
Safety Stops Draw Doubts
D.C. Police Gather Nonviolators’ Data
Lisa Davis had done nothing wrong. She was wearing a seat belt, was obeying the speed limit and produced a valid driver’s license when D.C. police pulled her over one recent night at a traffic safety checkpoint in a crime-plagued neighborhood.
Even so, an officer jotted down some basic information before letting her go, including her name, address and the time and location of the stop for a police database used for crime solving.
"I’ve got some serious constitutional issues with that," Davis said as she sat in her idling Acura at the checkpoint at Kansas Avenue and Shepherd Street NW in the Petworth neighborhood. "I feel like it’s a violation of my rights. It’s a slippery slope to Big Brother."
The details about Davis and the stop will be fed into the database, which is linked to a computer that includes arrest records and mug shots of criminals….
Civil liberties advocates aren’t the only ones questioning the practice. The policy is sparking concern among some officers who conduct the checkpoint stops, most of which are made in areas where crime, not traffic safety, is the primary concern.
"That’s an invasion of privacy, demanding information from a citizen and putting that in a database," said Officer Gregory I. Green of D.C. police, who is assigned to represent the police union….
The officers jot down motorists’ information on a file-card-size form called a PD-76, which is recorded into the database. The forms also are used for routine traffic stops, and the information will also be used for a racial profiling study, (D.C. Police Chief Charles) Ramsey said.
D.C. homicide Detective Paul Regan said the collection of such data has been "a great intelligence tool".
In the 6-3 United States Supreme Court case holding that DUI checkpoints were permissible, Justice Rehnquist admitted that the stops constituted "seizures" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. However, he said, this was justified because "No one can seriously dispute the magnitude of the drunken driving problem or the States’ interest in eradicating it."
Would the Court would have ruled as it did had the justices known what these supposed "sobriety checkpoints" would eventually become?
(Thanks to Steve Oberman of Knoxville, TN.)