D.C. NOTES

The storage area in my condo building has been vandalized and robbed twice during the past two weeks. The first time, kids from outside our complex but who have friends in our building were invited into the basement via a renter with a key. The wheels were stolen off two of our road bikes, and a third bike was damaged. The second incident involved the same kids, but this time they just decided to pry the basement door open with a crowbar, in broad daylight, and they finished the job they started the week before.

Of course, there was some talk about hiring security guards who could enter locked doors merely on suspicion of illicit activity. However, I am seeking funding for secure building doors accessible only with a special key or a digital card. This is the best way of protecting property short of posting a 24-hour guard. It is an expense we have no problem bearing, and it puts control over who can and cannot enter the building into the hands of the occupants.

The libertarian Cato Institute hosted a panel discussion recently regarding the ongoing digital wiretapping issue. FBI agent Alan McDonald plead his agency’s case once again for increased power, via the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, to tap wireline and wireless devices to stop the bad guys-mostly drug dealers-from harming decent Americans. McDonald’s view was rebutted by representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy & Technology and the bar, whose arguments, like the FBI’s, were strictly philosophical. I must admit that I err on the side of the ACLU, whose spokesman Barry Steinhardt likened the FBI’s approach to digital wiretapping and its impact on communications carriers to requiring home builders to install bugs in every new residence that could be turned on or off by law-enforcement agencies at will.

A worst-case mindset? Perhaps, but in light of statistics showing that 83 percent of all eavesdropping turns up innocent conversation, I think most agents probably could continue doing their crimestopping using the old tried-and-true methods-court order and carrier cooperation-to apprehend that remaining 17 percent of the criminal element. Just as there has been outcry against scanning for cellular calls, there should be some public concern regarding a proposed FBI ability to access some 136,000 simultaneous conversations in Los Angeles County at any given time.

I don’t want to provide my local cop with a key to my home “for my protection, just in case,” and I agree with those who believe the communications industry shouldn’t be mandated to set up a standard for search and seizure.

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