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Privacy Protections Will Lead to More Surveillance

May 18th, 2019 by dk

I like privacy as much as the next guy — just not quite as much as the guy who comes after that. For better or for worse, that guy is often a courtroom judge who thinks about the next thing, but not the thing after that. Curbside recycling and on-street parking may have to change to comply with recent judicial rulings. The court decisions could lead to more surveillance, not less.

Last week, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that government authorities may not sort through our trash, even after we’ve left it on the public street for haulers to carry away. Police suspected a couple in Lebanon of producing methamphetamine, so they asked trash haulers — without a search warrant — to set aside their trash for criminal investigation.

Police found incriminating evidence in the trash, and the couple was convicted. But Oregon’s top judges ruled that the deal between police and the hauler was an invasion of privacy. According to a 6-1 majority, no one should be allowed to rummage through our lid-covered trash bins without a search warrant.

Do you feel safer? Enjoy it while it lasts, because our recycling efforts will now get more difficult. Since lid-covered bins at the curb now carry a presumption of privacy, we’ll be unable to detect which households are not following current recycling rules. Entire truckloads of fouled recyclables will be redirected to the dump.

Who is still attempting to recycle grease-stained pizza boxes, or tissue paper, or unrinsed dog food cans? Who is guilty of mixing compost with metal and paper, or not noting the category number on plastics? We won’t know, and we can’t know. Their ignorance is now a matter of personal privacy.

Over time, this may doom commingled recycling in Oregon. Recyclers will host more centralized roundups, where they can scrutinize each arrival from each household before accepting it. Is this the future we see for ourselves in Oregon? The Oregon Supreme Court has set us on that path.

While Oregon judges were redefining the meaning of “thrown out,” Ohio judges were expanding privacies of a different stripe.

A federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled last month that tire-chalking by parking enforcement officials amounts to an unconstitutional search, violating the U.S. Constitution’s 4th amendment. The ruling applies only to Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, but judicial interpretations sometimes spread to other jurisdictions.

Again, it’s easy to cheer for the little guy, who literally made a federal case out of tire-chalking. Except that what authorities will be forced to do instead will be worse. They may no longer be allowed to mark a vehicle’s tires with chalk, but other methods of surveillance will be allowed that are more intrusive and less obvious.

Photos will be taken of vehicles as they enter and exit a parking space, capturing much more than the tire’s placement on the pavement. License plates and photos of the vehicles’ inhabitants could become useful to authorities for other purposes. All this can be done without a telltale mark on the pavement that tells us we’re being watched.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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