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BAD BILLS Big Government Is Watching EYES UPON US HB 901 Amendment to HB 1191 SB 945 Brought to us by the Republican “small government” crowd, these bills will put Texans under unprecedented surveillance, invade our privacy, collect any and all information about our bodies, and establish a network of secret cameras to watch over us, all in the name of combating terrorism. HB 901, known as the red light camera bill, is a masterpiece of governmental intrusion into the private lives of citizens. Sponsored by Phil King \(Rlinked governmental digital surveillance cameras to monitor traffic lights. These are infrared cameras that can recognize a face at 100 feet, peering down at you from traffic lights all over the state. At press time, HB 901 is in the Calendars Committee with strong prospects to pass the House. The intrusion of King’s cameras becomes more chilling if you consider his amendment, originally introduced but subsequently withdrawn, that would make confidential the location of all security cameras. This dovetails with the interests of the University of Texas, which is embroiled in a lawsuit to keep the location of its surveillance cameras confidential, as well as the interests of airports, power plants, and the Texas Department of Public Safety, all of whom want to keep their eyes on uswithout letting us keep our eyes on them. King raised his amendment on April 2, during a floor discussion on HB 1991, sponsored by Ray Allen \(Rsonably to keep plans and blueprints of public facilities confidential, if those plans contain information about specific vulnerabilities: the specifications of bridges or passcodes on laboratory locks. According to Rep. Allen’s chief of staff, Scott Gilmore, his boss doesn’t want the location of surveillance cameras to be secret, which is why HB 1191 doesn’t mention themand why King eventually pulled his amendment. HB 1191, sans King’s amendment, passed the House and was referred to the Infrastructure Development and Security committee. SB 945 is authored by Senate Infrastructure chair Steve Ogden \(RThis bill gives DPS money for a new computer system that will allow it to capture and compare your biometric information when you apply for a driver’s license, to make sure you don’t sneak more than one, presumably. The bill was voted out of Ogden’s committee, 8-0, perhaps because conirnittee members didn’t grasp its frill implications. The law’s definition of “biometric information” is entirely open. Right now the more common biometrics are fingerprints, thumbprints, and faceprints, but the law doesn’t restrict the use of voiceprints, DNA, or brain wave measurements called “brain fingerprinting” when those technologies become widely available. SB 945 leaves entirely up to DPS what kind of biometrics we citizens will eventually have to give it. If it wants to add voiceprints or DNA, DPS simply does it, no lawwriting required, when the fancy computer system that we’ve helped pay for is installed. Worst of all, the bill creates a loophole by which this information can be used for a multitude of unspecified investigative purposes. In other words, DPS agents won’t just be checking your thumbprint as they do now when you apply for a new driver’s license; they could use facial recognition software to track your activities in your car from cameras you won’t know the location ofall courtesy of the people who want to get government off our backs. JOHN ASHCROFT WANNABES HB 1562 Rep. Tommy Merritt Unlike other bills this session that slam the door on open government, HB 1562 doesn’t use catchphrases like “homeland security” to justify government secrecy. Instead, Rep. Merritt’s bill would enable local governmental bodies to block unwanted public information requests simply by calling them a nuisance. Overturning a longstanding tenet of the open records law, Merritt’s bill would allow governmental entities to request a hearing to determine the applicant’s reason for soliciting information. Requests deemed by an administrative law judge to be “frivolous” or “harassing” would be denied. And, here’s the kicker: All future requests for information by that applicant could then be refused without a hearing for an undefined “reasonable period of time.” At a March 31 public hearing before the Committee on State Affairs, Merritt insisted this bill would balance the open records process by giving government officials a way to defend themselves against ill-intentioned requests. “At this stage of the game, it’s my understanding that the attorney general will come in to the municipality and say, ‘Look, we have this open records law, and you have to provide it [the requested information], and if you don’t provide it, there’s a penalty for that,”‘ said Merritt. “And we’re just trying to get around that.” estimated that under this bill the process of determining whether a request was harassing would take continued on page 29 4/25/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13