Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The insecurity of petty functionaries

The Miller posts that he renewed his Totin’ Ticket graciously granted to him by the Commonwealth of Virginia. There are days I wish I was still a resident of VA, and today is one of them. (However, if I hadn’t come to NJ, I would never have met my wife, and if I left, I’d have to leave a job that is both enjoyable and fulfilling). But, that’s not why I’m writing this article.

He made a note that he had to leave his cell phone in the car under a policy that prevents “cameras or audio recording devices,” due to it having a camera and a recording function. One of the commenters mentions that in Fairfax County the jury pool rooms have WiFi, and laptops without cameras are allowed. This tells me that they are profoundly unserious about this policy, and furthermore, that it is essentially unenforceable. Every modern laptop is, inescapably, an audio recording device since it will have a line-in jack; and any random earphone is also a microphone. Most, in fact, have on-board microphones. And any cellphone, regardless of era, is at the least a field-expedient audio recording device. They may as well shut down the public WiFi at these courthouses. And I’m faintly surprised the bar association hasn’t risen en masse over having to give up their cellphones at the perimeter; as iPhones and Androids replace Blackberries, perhaps they will. If this results in lawyers having yet more privileges over layfolk, though, I will be unamused.

This is yet another example of placing the blame for the malicious action on the tool rather than the malicious actor. Presumably the rationale for this is to prevent information leakage in the form of pictures and audio. As far as audio goes, that battle was lost the day stenography was invented, as long as they allow paper and writing instrument. Photography is a little more objectionable, but it’s also more noticeable, and almost as easy to bypass by a trained person. It’s not that hard to remember a face, especially if you can pick it out afterwards from pictures or people. This rule is pure laziness and an exercise of petty power by petty bureaucrats.

I find it mildly amusing that there are ways in which NJ is more free than other states. I’ve done jury duty twice, and the only bans of carriage of electronic devices have to do with (essentially) contempt of court. I brought in both a modern PDA and a laptop with camera capability last time I served, and was able to use them everywhere but the court room during voire dire and the jury box, and during final deliberations in the jury deliberation room (in which we had to give up all distractions including magazines, books, and all personal electronics).

It is getting rather difficult to procure a laptop without a camera, and is essentially impossible to obtain a tablet without one. It is already effectively impossible to obtain a cellphone that is not a camera. The laptop is being replaced by tablets or PDAs. Private businesses are already adapting to this. My first PDA, I deliberately purchased the Without Camera model as I still had an idea that I would return to Pharma IT at the time, and in those days, the “no cameras or recording devices” perimeter was the boundary fence. Today, it’s only the secure areas that have such policies, or security office issues camera plugs if they really feel uptight. This is because other people wouldn’t do business with them if they couldn’t bring their phones along to meetings. Government, not being subject to competition, doesn’t have these pressures, and will be longer to adapt. Perhaps they won’t, but see my note above about the bar association…

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