Bad use of technology: Everyone’s a suspect in "mug shot" scheme of Manila police

Last night, I saw news about a new initiative of the Philippine National Police and a bus operator that will purportedly help bring down incidence of highway robbery against bus-riders and bus companies in general. The modus-operandi is for someone from the bus company take photos of each bus passenger so that any robber who might do his/her thing may thereafter be identified.

The police official who was interviewed by ABS-CBN was so proud of his modus-operandi while one passenger said that he finds nothing wrong with it. Mayor Alfredo Lim sees “nothing wrong” with it too.

Read about this odd “crime-fighting” move in today’s Manila Times Metro section.

The TV and print reports were not assuring. I have many questions that were left unanswered:

  1. Who authorized this modus-operandi?
  2. Who controls the shooting and safekeeping of the cameras and photos?
  3. Are passengers asked before their photos are taken?
  4. What happens if a passenger refuses to have his/her picture taken?
  5. What happens to the photos at the end of each trip that is unmolested by a robbery?
  6. Will the bus driver or conductor also take pictures of new passengers after the bus leaves the terminal?
  7. Isn’t it possible that this may be used for blackmail by the police?
  8. Are there precedents about this anywhere in the world?
  9. Will this be used against political criminals or enemies of the state, to track their movement and help death squads affiliated with the police to ultimately kill them?
  10. What if the picture-taker is naughty and uses the photos for other than the purpose that we have been told like, perhaps, for kinky ends? Hahaha.
  11. What will the cops do just in case a robbery actually occurs?

This is entirely different from the closed-circuit television cameras in London and other cities which are covered with ordinances and thus have a veneer of accountability with regard to the use of the shots taken.

London’s 10,000 cameras were said to be ineffective in deterring crime, according to this report. Besides, there’s accountability to the London cameras, while what we have here has none.

Can’t the police instead find and apprehend all the identified big-time highway robbery syndicates? Can’t we just ask the police to post the pictures of these thieves in the bus terminals?

I am all for crime-fighting and jailing and punishing all the criminal elements that victimize innocents but I don’t like the police and Mayor Lim experimenting freely on our rights to privacy and to not have our pictures taken by total strangers who we cannot hold liable for whatever happens to those pictures. There is no certainty even that the robbers will be scared or deterred by this new modus-operandi from the Manila’s Finest.

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