Things Heating Up Over at UncivilServants.org

uncivil.bubbles.jpeg

Over at the site UncivilServants.org, the Transportation Alternatives project where readers can post photos of illegally parked cars sporting government-issued parking permits (like the court officers above who are comfortably ensconced in a no-parking zone on Crosby Street), there’s a hot thread on whether showing the plate numbers of the vehicles constitutes a potentially dangerous invasion of privacy for police officers and others who are caught in violation. What do Streetsblog readers think?

  • Uncivil Servants should stick to their guns. Internal Affairs is mentioned twice in that thread; the complaining cops are more concerned about being disciplined than they are about “skells” using the site to track them down. They’re mad as hell about being held accountable–but isn’t that the whole point? It’d be a shame to back down now and de-claw the site, just as it’s apparently starting to make a difference.

    I’m surprised their “privacy” claim is being taken seriously at all; there is no expectation of privacy for car license plates. They’re in plain view. That’s the argument that’s been used to give up many of the public’s privacy rights to, actually, the police. Well boys, it goes both ways.

  • On of the Cops (Bklyncop1) on uncivilservants.org made this hilarious statement:

    “would you want any of the cops that you bash so quickly on this site to know where you live? I didnt think so”

    Well, last time I checked – everytime a police officer stops a cyclist (or anybody for that matter) he/she is required to give their home address and ID or be ticketed or even arrested.

    I think some police officers are just miffed at all of a sudden being trated like everyone else…However, I don’t think they need the licensce plate on uncivilservants.org – just the permit ID. Of course, if they don’t have a permit ID – then I would say that the liscense plate is fair game.

  • fair is fair

    Commuter placard parking should be phased out over time and heavily enforced to ensure against fraud and abuse.

    Here’s the general rule I would support:

    Legal type of permit, but parked illegally or expired permit, write down the permit number. (maybe keep a copy of your own of the plate number for back-up)

    Illegal or fabricated permit, write down the plate.

  • JF

    The idea of these unmarked “self-enforcement zones” is bizarre. So the NYPD legally has curb space specifically set aside for commuter parking, but it’s marked “no parking” by the DOT? And the locations of this curb space are secret and known only to the NYPD? Well of course people are going to think that the cops are arrogantly putting themselves above the law, even if it actually is somehow legal.

    Meanwhile, there are plenty of places where police vehicles are clearly parked illegally (sidewalks especially). And I’m talking obviously long-term commuter parking, not in any way relatable to emergencies.

  • David

    I’m not sure I understand the privacy issue.

    If my car is parked on the street, anybody who happens to walk past can see its license plate.

    If I’m concerned that my license plate number remain private while the car is parked, I have to park it out of the public’s view. (Even then, it’s still visible when I drive on public streets.) If I park on a public street (legally or illegally), people will see my license plate — and they might jot down the number or even take a picture of it.

  • JF

    As I understand it, David, it’s the idea that someone, from the comfort of their home computer, can compile a list of license plate numbers of the private cars owned by police officers, and from there find out their home addresses. This would be significantly harder to do on foot.

    Since displaying the plate numbers isn’t necessary to the goals of the site, it seems like a reasonable compromise to avoid it.

  • remember when

    A few months back did this site not expose someones personal home address, place of buisness and all aspects of their personal life in regard to a ped/vehicle incident. Did the poster who displayed this information gain access to this information in a “legal” manner. I highly doubt it.

    I don’t think there is any question this information is irrelevant for the site unless you personally want to shame someone or call them out personally

  • David

    Certainly, posting plate numbers makes it easier for somebody to keep track of plate numbers.

    But, as Doc Barnett points out in the very first comment, there’s no privacy issue here. Public information is simply being publicized further.

    If anybody can look up the address associated with any license plate, THAT would appear to be the big privacy issue.

  • fair is fair

    If the cops are so concerned about being outed as cops, they should stop using placards with NYPD blazing on the front dashboard.

  • JF

    It feels odd to be taking the officers’ position here, because I was so angry and frustrated to read their comments a few days ago, where some of them attacked the character and motives of anyone who questioned their perks. But it’s important to not make this a black-and-white issue.

    Yes, David, this is taking already public information and making it more public, and as such is no more illegal than public webcams. But legal or not, there are real consequences to collecting and aggregating public information, and they shouldn’t be done lightly.

    This is similar to lots of other privacy invasions in the past several years. A lot of public information is now being aggregated by the government and by corporations. It used to be that if someone wanted to track your movements they had to have a cop or a PI follow you around. Now they can look at your bank and credit card records to see where you’ve spent and withdrawn money, and if you use a cell phone or EZ-Pass they can track that too. If you paid for your Metrocard with a credit card, they can get a list of every station you swiped it at.

    Yes, most of this is public information, in that someone can see you swiping your Metrocard, or buying birth control, or driving through the Midtown Tunnel. But the aggregation of information has real effects, and legal or not we should approach it with caution.

  • They Know

    Anyone with internet access and a credit card can legally find the home address of anyone with a NY license plate. The state also makes available all court records, judgements, liens etc. Think that’s cool? The state also sells the home address of every doctor registered in the state and the post office sells lists of the forwarding address of everyone who moves. The cops are naive or disingenous if they think this site exposes them more than simply parking by their precinct does. Hard to picture some scumbag spending days wading through this site hoping to randomly find the one cop who pissed him off. When instead, said scumbag can walk by the precinct the cops works at and record the plates.

    Incidentally, Metrocard and EZ Pass records, are obtainable only by court order. That makes them more secure than most of your “private” information.

  • “I don’t think there is any question this information is irrelevant for the site unless you personally want to shame someone or call them out personally”

    Unless? The site will either personally shame city employees into following the law, or it will do nothing at all. The fact that there is a general problem is known to everyone, and is as boring as a picture of a bunch of anonymous, illegally parked cars.

    Maybe the permit ID number will be enough to spur action by the city, or maybe it is just a way to internalize the information and continue to look the other way. I hope that the site will take a second look at the game being played if they notice a sudden drop-off in interest from the city, commenting cops, and contributors.

  • Happy Camper

    come on ! if they were going to a strip club they woudl probably pay with cash and park their car far away ….
    If they do not want to be outed then do not park …

  • Steve

    The entire discussion going on at uncivilservants. org is interesting, not just the debate about license plate disclosure. For the first 48 hours the site was up, the majority of the commentary from law enforcement was veiled and explicit threats of physical violence, irrational emotional appeals based on NYPD and FDNY killed in the line of duty, puerile political attacks on “sissy liberals.” That is reflected in these strings:

    http://nyc.uncivilservants.org/post/index/675

    http://nyc.uncivilservants.org/post/index/727

    http://nyc.uncivilservants.org/post/index/418

    The uncivilservants crew didn’t blanch and came right back with lots of rational arguments. Gradually the violent and irrational verbal attacks began to recede (they are by no means gone), and some rational voices among law enforcement commenters emerged. It was in this context that the debate highlighted in this streetsblog post concerning the license plates emerged.

    The overall debate at uncivilservants is extraordinary. It could never take place face to face. Some sociology grad student is going get a dissertation topic (at least) out of this. Bravo to Efficient Streets, Greg, and the rest of the uncivilservants.org crew for taking the risks to create such a unique forum.

    Folks at Streetsblog should upload a post or two there (I recommend license obscured to the public but reported to Uncivilservants.org) and check out the whole discussion.

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