When disaster relief becomes a police state dragnet

I don’t have time to be a serious investigative journalist, so here’s a little rant.

I noticed in Katrina relief work that Homeland Security was swooping down on even small shelters and on people aggregating peoplefinding data. They took the data and warned people to silence. They started doing criminal checks, looking for people on their watchlists, but right down to the level of people who might have violated parole or be wanted for various crimes. Is this legal? Is it constitutional? As far as I know, they just seized that data. The people signing into an emergency shelter in some tiny church, or community center, or high school, didn’t sign up to be picked over by the Feds.

They tried with Gustav to “wristband” and register people for evacuation. They did it for some of Hurricane Ike. Is anyone realizing what this means? Disaster hits, citizens who are particularly powerless become the target of random criminal investigation. And if you have a criminal record? What then? They going to “evacuate” you to a “special shelter”?

Not that Galveston even bothered to evacuate the people in its city lockup, people awaiting a hearing and not even convicted of a crime.

I expect the registering, wristbanding, and electronic tracking process will become more efficient over the next few years.

I wonder what people were told? You have to register and show your ID, or we won’t let you on the bus out of town?

Oh, here we go, a little bit of the plan, that I’m sure didn’t get implemented all that well, because of course FEMA and emergency management officials were thinking about how to save and feed and shelter people, not how to treat poor people like automatic criminals?

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/5380868.html>http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/5380868.html

What the state is doing, is perfectly legal, according to at least one expert.

“Since it’s a government record they’re checking you against, there is not the same invasion of privacy concerns that may come up in other contexts,” said professor Charles Rhodes, who teaches constitutional law at South Texas College of Law. “I think the need for it would outweigh any privacy concerns. This is a public safety issue”

Rhodes’ only reservation would be the system itself, whether it’s set up to handle, perhaps, a false match indicating someone had a criminal record when they did not. He also wants to know how smoothly such checks could be processed.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how this is implemented in the time of an emergency,” Rhodes said.

They take the exact tactic I would expect. They claim they have to “wristband” and register and track everyone, centrally, and check everyone on a government criminal-record database, in order… get this… to protect special needs citizens from sex offenders. Is that really the motivation here? If the government gave a flying fuck about protecting people with special needs from sex offenders, there are far more effective things they could be doing than violating the civil rights of people evacuating from a hurricane.

Earlier this month, it was announced AT&T Inc. has contracted with the Texas Governor’s Division of Emergency Management to provide electronic wristbands for those residents wanting them, before they board an evacuation bus.

The wristbands would be scanned by emergency management officials and the person’s name would be added to a bus boarding log. That person’s name and their bus information would be sent wirelessly to the University of Texas Center for Space Research data center.

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The decision to wear a wristband is purely voluntary. But anyone who boards an evacuation bus will have to provide a name. There will be no requirement to show an identification card, such as a driver’s license, but officials may ask those boarding for an ID.

Oh sure. It’s totally voluntary to wear an electronic wristband, but who is going to tell you that? And who is going to ask, in the face of disaster?

No requirement to show ID. But the cop who decides if you get on the bus or not can ASK YOU FOR ID. They don’t have to tell you it’s not required.

How about if you’re an immigrant and your immigration status is in question? Are you going to evacuate under these conditions? Or take your chances? What other databases are the authorities running the names against? Where will they stop? Who will stop them?

Don’t make any mistake about this, disaster might strike a whole city, but it is primarily the rich and middle class people who have the resources and social resources to get out of town and go stay with friends or in a motel. What the government is doing here is part of the immense disrespect and violation of human rights of working class people, people living in poverty, and immigrants. They might as well just go through whole neighborhoods of people who have less money and stop people at random to do criminal checks on them. OH WAIT … that already happens.

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