Stingray Technology Shows Ongoing Tension Between Privacy Rights and Safety

Law enforcement is always looking for the best new technology to stay one step ahead of increasingly sophisticated criminal agents, not to mention terrorist sympathizers.

In the pursuit of this goal, new surveillance equipment makes tracking actual criminal suspects easier and faster each year. Each advance in the field of surveillance stretches the boundaries of Fourth Amendment protections against undue search and seizure, creating grey areas where the legitimate pursuit of public safety may conflict with individuals’ immediate privacy and right to be presumed innocent. In these cases, there should be a robust public debate to decide where to set that line.

Enter the Stingray. Properly known as an international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) catcher, Stingray is the brand name of such a device that basically collects communications data over a wide area by tricking mobile devices into thinking that the Stingray is actually a cellphone tower. Stingrays can thus be used to track all nearby phones — and the creatures that carry them — in real time. Not only can this track your location, but it can also collect your metadata, such as what numbers are calling into the device. Furthermore, some Stingray devices appear to be able to collect actual content – i.e., your phone conversations, text messages, and the like.

Clearly this is powerful technology and was originally developed for military use overseas. However, the FBI began acquiring the devices for its agents as well as helping local and state law enforcement units acquire them, too.

It is not hard to imagine the legitimate usefulness of such a device in the case of an actual real-time crime investigation or a stakeout. However, the ability of these devices to track and intercept data from these devices en masse also raises due process concerns, especially if they are used for passive, ongoing surveillance. rather than targeted use at the behest of a court order.

Rather than have a debate over how these devices should be employed in public, a congressional inquiry released late in 2016 reveals that the FBI arranged for law enforcement to acquire these Stingray devices in secret. The FBI even conditioned the transfer of these devices on signing non-disclosure agreements — to the point of demanding that the departments using these devices refuse to acknowledge their existence in court!

As the Cato Institute’s Adam Bates documents in a major new study, many of the agencies that bought Stingrays did not have any formal guidelines for how to use them legally in the field until a series of leaks began tipping civil liberties activists to their existence. More disturbingly, there have been documented instances where law enforcement was forced to drop cases against a suspect to avoid revealing the evidence collected via Stingrays, and the FBI has even been caught directing police to invent alternate ways that Stingray data might have been collected constitutionally (a practice known as “parallel construction”).

Just as concerning is the acquisition and use of Stingrays by executive branch agencies outside of the FBI. The most ridiculous example pointed out by the Oversight report is the IRS, which owns two Stingray devices and admitted to using them in 37 investigations so far. Yep, the tax man can track you and listen to your phone calls. Interestingly, the IRS devices have thus far been used mostly in cases involving non-tax crimes, leading one to wonder why such investigations aren’t just being handed off to the FBI or other actual law enforcement bodies.

The combination of the massive potential for these devices to be used unconstitutionally to conduct mass surveillance, combined with the eyebrow-raising secrecy with which they have been acquired and used, merits congressional action.

It seems redundant to have to pass a federal law to specify that law enforcement needs to have a valid warrant to collect and use surveillance data against Americans in the U.S., but such is the state of the Fourth Amendment in the age of technology. Fortunately, a number of high-exposure uses of Stingrays, such as their use by the IRS and the revelation that the Baltimore police used airplane-borne cell tower simulators to monitor protest crowds, has ensured bipartisan interest in setting forth strong guidelines for their use.

It will be the task of lawmakers and civil liberties advocates to ensure that these guidelines are sufficient and that they do not continue to provide avenues for yet another form of legally justified, unconstitutional government mass surveillance. (For more from the author of “Stingray Technology Shows Ongoing Tension Between Privacy Rights and Safety” please click HERE)

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Robots Poised to Take Over Wide Range of Military Jobs

The wave of automation that swept away tens of thousands of American manufacturing and office jobs during the past two decades is now washing over the armed forces, putting both rear-echelon and front-line positions in jeopardy.

“Just as in the civilian economy, automation will likely have a big impact on military organizations in logistics and manufacturing,” said Michael Horowitz, a University of Pennsylvania professor and one of the globe’s foremost experts on weaponized robots.

“The U.S. military is very likely to pursue forms of automation that reduce ‘back-office’ costs over time, as well as remove soldiers from non-combat deployments where they might face risk from adversaries on fluid battlefields, such as in transportation.”

Driver-less vehicles poised to take taxi, train and truck driver jobs in the civilian sector also could nab many combat-support slots in the Army. (Read more from “Robots Poised to Take Over Wide Range of Military Jobs” HERE)

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Declassified Docs: CIA Spent Decades Studying Psychic Powers

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released 13 million pages of declassified documents detailing the agency’s 1,864 investigations into the use of psychic powers.

The data dump contains 1,864 instances in which the CIA seriously investigated psychic phenomena, including the use of psychics by law enforcement, research with the Pentagon, using psychics to spy on the Soviet Union and attempts to debunk scientists skeptical of psychic powers.

CIA scientists even tested celebrity psychic Uri Geller in 1973. They found he “demonstrated his paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner.” The documents indicate Geller partly replicated images drawn in another room with relative accuracy.

The CIA’s research into psychic powers does a lot more to prove the agency’s shoddy research methods than it does to demonstrate the actual existence of psychic phenomena. Most mainstream scientists suspect that psychic phenomena do not exist, but investigators often produce experimental statistical evidence for alleged occurrences of potentially psychic events.

The CIA’s scientific investigation of psychic power likely indicates that any science which heavily relies on statistics may have a powerful “placebo effect.” Researchers are able to “remember the hits and forget the misses” simply by repeating testing until it produces “experimental evidence” that meets typical scientific standards for statistics purely by chance. (Read more from “Declassified Docs: CIA Spent Decades Studying Psychic Powers” HERE)

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The Hottest Yeah Evah! Really?

Assume for a moment, as the press with triumphant glee is reporting, that 2016 was the hottest year evah! Believe the claim for the sake of argument. Swallow the idea, for at least the next minute, that the media and government really do have your best interests at heart and are reporting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the world’s temperature.

How much hotter than previous years was 2016? Bare your wrist and blow a huh on it from about half a foot away. Don’t blow—stay with me here: this is a genuine scientific experiment — but utter a soft ugh so that your breath wafts over your wrist gently. Feel that increase in heat? Well, that boost to your skin was much hotter than the increase supposed to have happened to the atmosphere in 2016.

Here’s a better experiment. You are likely reading this article sitting down. Sense the temperature around your face: it might help to think about your cheeks. Now stand up. Take a second mental reading. Feel the difference? That same tenth or so change in degree, which was probably imperceptible to you, is about the same as the change in temperature scientists say they measured over the entire globe, including over the salty seas from last year to this.

Yes. Climatologists gathered measurements from buoys at sea, from thousands of thermometers at airports and other locations, from balloons, even, and then took their average — sort of. That number was then declared as the Official Temperature of Earth for 2016.

The “sort of” is important. Because the places and methods of measurement used in 2016 were not exactly the same as those used in 2015; and those used in 2015 were not the same as those used in 2014; and so on. And those used in, for instance, 1914 are completely different than in 2014. A century ago, mercury-in-glass thermometers were in a different class than the digital complexities in use today. Too, 100 years ago the places of measurement were few in number. Vast areas of the globe went unmeasured. And at places which were the same, well, thermometers out in the woods in 1914 now have a cities grown up around them. Even in modern times, thermometers break and are serviced. Buoys corrode. And so on. Things change.

And then we have to consider the devices used to measure temperature are imperfect. They are only accurate to, say, a tenth of a degree; and this plus-or-minus uncertainty varies from instrument to instrument, and even at the same instrument from year to year (consider how efficient your joints are as you age). The accuracy of thermometers even fifty years ago was not the same as it is today. Shipboard measurements 100 years ago were of an entirely different nature than now. (For more from the author of “Fireworks, Protests, Celebs, Prayers — What to Expect at the Inauguration” please click HERE)

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Progressives Think They Can Alter Reality. They’re Wrong.

We will never understand liberals and progressives until we recognize that they often see reality as a social construct subject to being challenged and changed.

For example, throughout the world, boys and girls have different toy preferences. Typically, boys like to play with cars and trucks, whereas girls prefer dolls.

Liberals explain this with the assertion that boys and girls are socialized and encouraged to play with different types of toys by their parents, peers, and “society.”

Growing scientific evidence suggests that toy preferences have a biological origin. Even studies of male and female primates find that they exhibit similar toy preferences.

Despite the growing evidence of biological determinism, liberals have managed to intimidate toy sellers into getting rid of the labels “toys for boys” and “toys for girls.”

Another reality issue that’s extremely annoying to liberals and progressives is chromosomal sex determination.

The XX/XY sex determination system is found in humans. Females have two of the same kind of sex chromosome (XX), whereas males have two distinct sex chromosomes (XY). This chromosomal reality is seen as limiting, annoying, and an artifact of a patriarchal, chauvinistic society.

So liberals and progressives want to change it. Say you are an XY (male) individual but would like to conduct your affairs in a facility designated for XX (female) individuals, such as a ladies’ room. You can satisfy your desire by claiming that you are transgender — that is, you’ve switched from one gender to another. Therefore, if one has XY chromosomes, he can behave as if he were an XXer.

Plus, there is the expectation of being addressed according to one’s chosen gender. The Minneapolis Police Department has a new rule that requires officers to address transgender people using their preferred names and pronouns. When an XYer is arrested but claims he is a woman, I wonder whether the police will place him in a cell with XXers.

Just how far the Minneapolis authorities will go is in question; maybe they, too, believe that reality is optional.

Another part of reality that liberals and progressives find difficult to accept is the fact that equality among humans is the exception and inequality the norm.

If one were to list the world’s top 30 violinists of the 20th century, at least 20 of them would be of Jewish ancestry. Jews constitute no more than 3 percent of the U.S. population but 35 percent of American Nobel Prize winners. One wonders what liberals would propose to promote equality in violin excellence and winning a Nobel Prize.

By the way, liberals and progressives love to attend classical concerts, where there is a virtual absence of racial diversity.

Year after year, blacks of West African descent walk away with all of the prizes in the Olympic 100-meter run. The probability of such an outcome by chance is all but zero.

It must be a reality — namely, genetic physiological and biomechanical characteristics — that causes blacks to excel in certain sports (e.g., basketball, football, and track) and spells disaster for those who have aspirations to be Olympic-class swimmers.

Somehow liberals and progressives manage to cope with some realities but go ballistic with others. They cope well with black domination of basketball, football, and track and with the near absence of black performers in classical concerts. They also accept the complete absence of women in the NFL and NBA.

They even accept geographical disparities. For example, not a single player in the NHL’s history can boast of having been born and raised in Hawaii, Louisiana, or Mississippi.

The reality that they go ballistic on is the reality that we are not all equally intelligent. There are many more male geniuses than female, and median male IQ is higher. Liberals might argue bias in the testing. Men are taller on average than women. If liberals don’t like that, would they accuse the height-measuring device of being biased?

The lesson liberals need to learn is that despite their arrogance, they do not have the power to alter reality. (For more from the author of “Progressives Think They Can Alter Reality. They’re Wrong.” please click HERE)

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Cough Syrup With GPS Tracker Helps Police Nab Suspected Pharmacy Burglars

The suspects had no idea that the bottle of cough syrup perched on a shelf at a Tustin pharmacy contained something more than cough relief.

It wasn’t until the nondescript package was removed from the small Newport Avenue business by burglars that its secret ingredients went to work.

Concealed inside the bottle of cough syrup was a GPS device that began tracking the medicine thieves’ every move, according to police investigators.

After days of tracking, undercover surveillance and evidence gathering, investigators arrested Willie James Clark, 21, of Roland Heights and Brian Vega Salinas, 20, of La Puente on suspicion of committing the Nov. 10 burglary. (Read more from “Cough Syrup With GPS Tracker Helps Police Nab Suspected Pharmacy Burglars” HERE)

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Deep Learning: Teaching Computers to Predict the Future

Using algorithms partially modeled on the human brain, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have enabled computers to predict the immediate future by examining a photograph.

A program created at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) essentially watched 2 million online videos and observed how different types of scenes typically progress: people walk across golf courses, waves crash on the shore, and so on. Now, when it sees a new still image, it can generate a short video clip (roughly 1.5 seconds long) showing its vision of the immediate future.

“It’s a system that tries to learn what are plausible videos — what are plausible motions you might see,” says Carl Vondrick, a graduate student at CSAIL and lead author on a related research paper to be presented this month at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in Barcelona. The team aims to generate longer videos with more complex scenes in the future.

But Vondrick says applications could one day go beyond turning photos into computer-generated GIFs. The system’s ability to predict normal behavior could help spot unusual happenings in security footage or improve the reliability of self-driving cars, he says.

If the system spots something unusual, like an animal of a type it hasn’t seen before running into the road, Vondrick explains that the vehicle “can detect that and say, ‘Okay, I’ve never seen this situation before — I can stop and let the driver take over,’ for example.” (Read more from “Deep Learning: Teaching Computers to Predict the Future” HERE)

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Man Wanted for Murder Caught in Spain Because of Tell-Tale Tattoo: ‘Thanks for Everything’

Late in October, police in Freyung, Germany, made a grisly discovery. The body of a 20-year-old woman named Lisa had been stuffed into trash bags and left in the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Dominik and their 18-month-old son.

There were signs that her throat had been slit, but investigators couldn’t be certain how long her remains had been there – maybe three weeks, the BBC reports . . .

Spanish police tracked him down to the beach area of Catalonia and arrested him on Friday. On his upper arm was a horrifying tattoo with the dead woman’s name, birth date, possible death date of Oct. 27 and the line, “Gracias por todo” – “Thanks for everything.”

Spain’s National Police said in a statement, “Officers have rescued in perfect condition the couple’s 18-month-old baby with whom he fled after committing the murder.”

Dominik, whose last name has not been released by Spanish police, left an obvious trail of clues for investigators during his flight from justice. (Read more from “Man Wanted for Murder Caught in Spain Because of Tell-Tale Tattoo: ‘Thanks for Everything'” HERE)

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How My Husband Ended up in Jail After Walking Our Dog

For the record, I told you so, Peter!

In 2007, my British husband got a ticket for walking our dog Henry without a leash in Washington, D.C. The National Park Service made it impossible to pay the ticket. So, a newly minted citizen, Peter said he’d wait for his day in court.

I told him that was most unwise and that he could end up in jail.

I was right.

Overcriminalization is a serious issue in our country, and while Peter’s experience was trivial, it describes a terrible (yet hilarious) day.

Here’s an excerpt from my new book, “Let Me Tell You About Jasper.” This story is written by Peter, explaining how he ended up in jail while I was working at the White House. When he was given his “one phone call” from jail, I was in the Oval Office briefing the president. True story.

With that, I give you: my husband, the off-leash criminal.

It’s all Henry’s fault! My brush with the law started around 7:15 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2007, when I took Henry to Lincoln Park. I parked across the road and was walking in the park with him; the park was deserted apart from a few other dog owners there, and we chatted about our dogs as the darkness settled around us.

We were standing near the Lincoln statue when we noticed headlights entering the park toward the far end, and we saw a police car racing down the middle of the park toward us.

We soon realized the reason for the rapid approach: It was the Park Police and our dogs were off-leash. Everyone immediately called their dog and reached in their pockets for their leash. I did the same, but alas—no leash! I had left it on the seat of the car.

I quickly turned away and, with Henry walking extremely close, started to leave the park.

“You! Stop!” I heard. I turned and sure enough, the policeman had leapt from his car and was advancing rapidly toward me. Busted!

I explained to Officer Smith that I had left my leash in the car and was returning for it, so he asked for ID, then instructed me to wait while he went to the car. He took a few minutes, presumably checking I was not a serial dog-off-leash scofflaw and returned to write the ticket.

I tried to make light of the situation and joke with Officer Smith, but he was all business. No response, no smile, no pleasantries in reply to mine.

I duly received my ticket and was told that I could pay at any of the stations listed on the back. I informed Officer Smith that there were some suspicious squirrels at the end of the park that he might want to check on, and returned to my car.

Okay, I got a ticket. I was in the wrong, I broke the law, and I am not arguing with that. I had 15 days in which to pay and so on Nov. 24 I reported to First District Substation on E Street SE in Washington, D.C., as listed on the back of the ticket.

I was informed that they did not accept the payments anymore, and my inquiry as to where they thought I might be able to pay was met with a disinterested shrug and the words “Park Police headquarters.”

I returned home and, as we were leaving town for a couple of days, I decided to call the Park Police headquarters on Ohio Drive SW to check whether they accepted payment, or ask where I should mail the check, as the ticket stated, “You may mail in the collateral” but did not state where to mail the payment, how to make the payment, or to whom the payment should be made. However, all I got was an answering machine; an hour later I got the same. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

I have since learned that the ticket I received with both wrong and missing information had been incorrect for six years. A friend got a ticket six years prior and the station on E Street SE did not accept payment then.

So I duly wrote a check made out to U.S. Park Police and mailed it to the headquarters, with a letter explaining that their ticket contained wrong and insufficient information.

I also stated, “I know that the job of ticketing dog owners whose dog is off-leash is highly important—especially in time of war and terror threats, not to mention D.C.’s soaring crime rate. However, if someone at your department could see their way to having a ticket written in competent language with correct information, perhaps we might feel our taxes are not being totally squandered.”

They received my letter and did not reply for 12 days before stating that my payment was unacceptable and that I should send a money order to the D.C. Court.

By the time I received the letter it was already 10 days past the cutoff date and the ticket stated that this would “result in the case being presented at the District of Columbia Superior Court for disposition.”

Given that I had made three attempts to pay, and some information on the ticket lacked sufficient details while other information was just plain wrong, I decided to have my day in court. I wanted to explain to the judge just how apathetic/indolent/incompetent the Park Police are with their tickets. And as a newly minted citizen (for all of about two months), I knew it was my right!

I was therefore awaiting notice to attend court, but did not hear anything for some time. Given that the Park Police are apparently incapable of producing a competently written ticket, this didn’t surprise me.

However, upon returning from a business trip in April, I found a letter inviting me to go to the police station on Fourth Street SW so that they could process me through court on the same day. This was part of “Operation Clean Slate.” (I’m not kidding or exaggerating.)

On Wednesday the 18th I went to the station but was told it was too late for processing that day and was asked to return early the next morning, preferably before 7 a.m. When I asked how long the process would be, I was told, “Oh, an hour and a half, maybe two hours.”

So on the 19th I arrived at the station at 6:45 a.m. and was promptly arrested! The arresting officer asked what had happened and he shook his head in amazement. “They issued a warrant for that?” he asked incredulously. “Why didn’t you go to the court and pay the fine?”

Oops! That’s something else not mentioned on the ticket—apparently the Park Police expect citizens to be psychic. So during the 12 days my letter was sitting in the Park Police headquarters being ignored, they had gone ahead and issued a warrant.

My belongings and belt were taken and I was placed in a cell. Now, I am a normal, law-abiding person. I’ve never been in a cell in my life, and my reaction was somewhere between surprise and fascination. It was just like the TV shows. The fact that I knew a judge would release me as soon as I was through the court proceeding meant that I was never worried—this was in no way a long-term situation—but it was strange to know that I could not leave if I wanted to.

I no longer had any control over my own freedom, and while awaiting transportation to the court I contemplated how awful it must be for someone who knows they will be incarcerated for a long time. It doesn’t matter how many times you see it on the TV; it’s different when you are there yourself. I was tempted to ask if I could get a tattoo of Henry on my shoulder to mark the occasion.

However, when the other prisoners were taken to court and I remained there, I inquired as to why and was told that, as I was a Park Police case, I must await a Park Police officer.

Of course nobody turned up from the Park Police station for a couple of hours, so I sat and waited patiently, counting the tiles on the floor (8,280) and finding the whole situation actually quite amusing. Though by this time I knew that the parking meter was running out for my car; so much for a couple of hours.

Finally, the Park Police arrived and it was none other than my old nemesis Officer Smith! He searched me again and, after handcuffing me, led me to his car. At least I sat in the front so it wouldn’t look like I had been arrested if anyone I knew saw me.

When he got into the driver’s seat, I said, “When you put me in the car, weren’t you supposed to put your hand on my head, like they do in the movies?” He did not respond.

I tried making conversation with Officer Smith but the responses were monosyllabic and usually one word. I tried making jokes, but they fell on deaf ears. All business, this guy (or maybe the squirrel jibe was still rankling him).

Upon arrival at the headquarters building, I was taken to another cell and the cuffs were released, then after five minutes Officer Smith brought me out and cuffed me to a wooden bar while he filled in the necessary paperwork. It’s probably just as well he did, because by this time I was considering fleeing.

If I could just overpower this young, fit, armed officer and steal his ID to open the door before anyone noticed—the place was after all virtually empty—I could be free! I could see the headlines: Leashless Dog Walker Stalks D.C. parks.

I knew I was also allowed to call my wife, but I was a little afraid to. Dana had warned me several times about getting that ticket paid, and when I told her I was going to exercise my rights she told me I was going to be arrested. I didn’t believe her. Now I was going to have to call her at the White House, where she was the acting press secretary and surely “didn’t need this crap.” Her White House voice can still scare me to this day.

So I said to Officer Smith that I would like to make a call. He looked at me blankly.

“I’ve seen the movies. I know my rights,” I said with a smile.

He grudgingly obliged.

When I called the press office, her assistant press secretary Carlton Carroll answered the phone. He said she was in the Oval Office and asked if I wanted to interrupt the meeting. Over my dead body! So I asked him to leave her a message, which he promptly emailed. She saw a message came in and snuck a peek at her messages. All it said was that I had been delayed and that she needed to arrange for the dog walker to come take care of Henry.

She later told me that she knew immediately. “That jerk’s been arrested.” (Right on both counts.)

More handcuffs, another car, and I was soon at the court building, where, once Officer Smith was sure we were behind locked doors, I was handed over to the processing officers.

Form-filling and fingerprinting followed; however, these fellows, while highly professional, were a lot more relaxed. When they asked the reason for my arrest and I told them “walking my dog without a leash,” the response was hilarity. I think I was the first, as it took them some time to find the nearest category for me on the computer!

When they stopped laughing, a mature officer of some years’ service also told me, “This is ridiculous.” He explained that most officers would have used their initiative, had the warrant delayed for a couple of days, and made a call, or even visited me to tell me to go to the court and pay.

Still, we enjoyed the humor of the situation and made a few wisecracks, while they fed me cheese sandwiches and lemonade and, after 10 minutes in my third cell, I was cuffed again and placed in the back of yet another car to be taken to the Superior Court building a couple of hundred yards away.

By this time, it was early afternoon, and the officer driving told us he was rushing so that we would be processed that afternoon. He explained that if we weren’t processed that day it would mean an overnight stay. Now it wasn’t quite so funny!

When he asked the reason for my arrest and I told him, it resulted in the same outburst of disbelieving laughter. “Are you serious? You were arrested for that?”

So now I arrived at the Superior Court, where the handcuffs were finally removed, only to be replaced with leg shackles! “If my friends could only see me now,” I thought with a wry smile.

Following another search, I found myself in the fourth cell, one I shared with 20 others.

A couple hours more cell time and after three court-appointed attorneys shared the humor of the situation and expressed their disbelief that an arrest had been made for this, I found myself in front of the judge.

I explained what had happened and even the judge smiled. With my English accent, I was clearly a relative newcomer to the United States, and I had made three attempts to pay via a Park Police system that I described to him as blatantly incompetent, but it had not been possible given the inadequate information they provided.

The judge told me that this should not have happened and that I should not have been there that day. I held up my manacled leg and said, “Well, your honor, it’s been a very interesting day and I’ve had a good insight into the U.S. judicial system.” He smiled and said, “Welcome to America!”

Upon payment my record would be expunged, and I left the court a free man. I had to collect my belongings from the Park Police station the next day—they had told me that after 3 p.m. the office would be closed. I hope nobody went there to pay a fine that afternoon.

As my car keys were with the belongings, I walked there with Henry on a delightful April morning. (On the leash all the way, I would add! Well, most of it—)

Oh, and the good news was—I did not get a parking ticket after being off the meter all the previous day! But if I had, I would have paid that ticket right away.

This is an excerpt from Dana Perino’s new book “Let Me Tell You About Jasper,” courtesy of Twelve Books.

(For more from the author of “How My Husband Ended up in Jail After Walking Our Dog” please click HERE)

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Improper Recycling Could Land You in Jail: How Overcriminalization Threatens Everyone

Criminal laws and regulations in the United States have increased to absurd proportions in the past few decades, posing a growing threat to our constitutional liberties.

There are nearly 5,000 criminal laws and an estimated 300,000 or more criminal regulations at the federal level alone. In fact, there are so many possible criminal offenses that Harvey Silverglate, a civil liberties attorney, contends the average American probably commits at least three felonies a day, most without knowing it.

In April, the perils of overcriminalization were on full display when Brian Everidge traveled to Michigan with more than 10,000 bottles and cans, seeking to capitalize on Michigan’s generous 10 cents-per-bottle refund program. He stood to make $1,000.

Everidge was pulled over for speeding and found himself facing a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison after the state trooper discovered his cargo. As it turned out, transporting more than 10,000 bottles into Michigan with the intent to collect a deposit is a felony.

Besides Michigan, nine other states have bottle deposit laws—California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. Though each state law varies slightly from the others, each law operates on the same basic premise: Consumers pay a deposit on specified beverage containers and get reimbursed upon returning the emptied container.

Deposits vary from 5 cents to 15 cents by state and container size. When a person knowingly brings in containers sold outside the state, they are deceiving state officials by seeking the return of a deposit they never paid.

Surprisingly, interstate bottle fraud can be big business. In 2015, California officials uncovered a recycling ring that raked in $14 million from 2012 to 2014 on approximately 250 million containers brought from Arizona to California recycling centers.

The Michigan Treasury Department reported that interstate bottle fraud costs the state $10 to $13 million every year. Michigan state Rep. Kenneth Kurtz, a Republican, said of repeat “scammers who drive car and truck loads of cans from Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio,” that “If you are intending to defraud … then you should be held accountable for it.”

Six of the 10 bottle bill states—California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Vermont—have codified penalties specifically for cashing in on out-of-state bottles, or attempting to. Only Michigan and California, however, make it a crime.

Michigan’s penalties work on a sliding scale. Attempt to return up to 99 containers, you’ll get off with a civil fine; attempt to return 100 to 9,999 containers, you’re guilty of a misdemeanor; and if you attempt to return 10,000 or more, you’re now a felon and subject to up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.

Other types of fraud, such as dishonest practices in connection with official records on milk and butter production or failing to label imitation leather boots as such, are misdemeanors—no matter how much butter is produced or how expensive the boots are.

In California, trading in out-of-state recyclable containers is also a felony if the redemption value is more than $400. One truck driver faced criminal charges for smuggling 7,000 pounds of containers worth more than $7,100 in redemptions, with possible jail time of six months to three years.

The United States Supreme Court stated recently, in Bond v. U.S. (2014), that states “have broad authority to enact legislation for the public good—what we have often called a ‘police power.’” It also ruled in Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery (1981) that a state can outright ban the sale of retail goods in a “plastic nonreturnable, nonrefillable container” if it so chooses, respecting the states’ broad discretion to implement environmental policies.

Heritage Foundation scholars have argued, however, that “the most successful environmental policies emanate from liberty.”

Criminal laws and penalties, writes John Malcolm, director of Heritage’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, are “meant to enforce a commonly accepted moral code that is set forth in language the average person can readily understand and that clearly identifies the prohibited conduct.”

Administrative schemes like state bottle recycling programs, Malcolm writes, should “establish rules of the road (with penalties attached for violations of those rules) to curb excesses and address consequences in a complex, rapidly evolving, highly industrialized society.”

Maine’s bottle fraud rules exemplify a proper understanding of how law ought to work. Maine imposes civil fines whenever a person attempts to deposit more than 48 containers not sold in the state, with the penalty being the greater of a $100 fine for each container or $25,000 fine for each attempted transaction.

This creates a disincentive for cashing in on out-of-state containers and more than compensates the state for its losses without branding every person who violates the scheme as a criminal.

Moreover, Maine requires all recycling centers to post a sign that clearly defines “bottle fraud” and warns customers of its penalties, so anyone who unlawfully takes advantage of Maine’s incentive structure does so with a full understanding of the consequences.

Heritage scholars have identified ways to address the overcriminalization crisis. Lawmakers must reassess current laws and scrutinize any new laws that use criminal instead of civil penalties, incorporating safeguards to ensure that the criminal code is not a trap for the unwary. Everidge and the many others caught up in cases of overcriminalization deserve better from our justice system. (For more from the author of “Improper Recycling Could Land You in Jail: How Overcriminalization Threatens Everyone” please click HERE)

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