Wisconsin Lawmakers’ Attempt to Rein in Surveillance State

Whether one thinks of him as a traitor or a whistleblower, Edward Snowden’s leaks of information pertaining to NSA spying illustrate one thing: our government and its leaders will lie to the American people whenever they deem it necessary.

Typically, these so-called “noble lies,” a term coined by the philosopher Plato, are premised on protecting our national security interests.  In reality, no matter what the underlying purpose, untruthfulness on the part of public officials undermines the rule of law at every level of government.

In August, President Obama, during an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, proclaimed, “We don’t have a domestic spying program.”

Even though he is isolated in the White House, even a casual observer must wonder what planet the President is living on.  Has he driven down a major thoroughfare in his limo and observed surveillance cameras capturing the movements of Americans?  What about the millions of closed circuit television cameras (the square white ones) found virtually every mile or two on high traveled portions of interstate highways?  Has the President conveniently forgotten that his own administration is providing grants to local law enforcement for automated license plate readers that capture, geo-tag, and store data on the locations of our vehicles absent a reasonable suspicion? What about the NSA’s Utah Data Center, a facility that creates electronic dossiers on millions of Americans?

During my tenure at the Milwaukee Police Department, a long-time detective frequently echoed the mantra that “abuses lead to restrictions.”  If this now retired detective’s warning rings true, then the wide spread abuses and overreaching of our government, at all levels, is about to be met with a slew of regulations.

Fortunately, the state legislature in Wisconsin is finally grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns.  Two proposed bills seek to curtail the ability of the government to spy on its citizens.

The first initiative would restrict the ability of so-called Intelligence Fusion Centers from using GPS cellular telephone technology to monitor the movements of citizens without court authorization.


As things currently stand, operatives at the Southeastern Wisconsin Threat Assessment Center, located on the second floor of Milwaukee’s Police Administration Building, can keep close tabs on any cellular telephone user who leaves their “location services” on.   The software used is very Orwellian.  Even though local tax dollars are used to fund the MPD’s fusion center, federal officials and city leaders believe much of the data captured and stored is exempt from Wisconsin’s open records law.

Another bill takes aim at information accumulated from Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs).  These devices are either mounted on squad cars or at fixed locations.  Once a license plate is capture it is time stamped and geo-tagged.


The proposed bill would limit the amount of time that law enforcement can maintain the license plate information after its capture.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the Milwaukee Police Department has photographed over 9.6 million license plates since 2008.

Of course, Wisconsin’s law enforcement community is not particularly pleased with these restrictions, which limit its authority to spy on citizens absent a reasonable suspicion on any wrong doing.  Statist politicians, such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and big government police chiefs, like Milwaukee’s Edward Flynn, appear to view electronic surveillance and other measures that stretch the Constitution to its limits and beyond as a god send.

For example, Flynn, like Bloomberg, is a supporter of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, which require officers to have a reasonable suspicion to stop a person but seems to forgo the reasonable articulable suspicion necessary for a lawful pat down.


Yet if surveillance initiatives are a god send then why does the government feel the need to conceal their activities from open records laws or, as was the case with the NSA, outright lie about them? Could it be that these leaders are fearful of what its citizens may learn: that America has become the land of the watched and home of the “Brave New World” that Aldous Huxley foretold in 1932?


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His latest book, Best of the Spingola Files, Volumes I & II, is now available at Amazon.com.


If your organization is on the lookout for an outstanding guest speaker, please consider the Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide presentation.

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© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2013

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