5 x 8: We know what you did today


Since the Star Tribune revealed the extent to which Minneapolis and a few other police departments are monitoring our movements, the reaction from the monitored — us — has mostly been a shrug of the shoulders.

But in the wake of the NSA domestic spying leak, the American Civil Liberties Union is trying again, releasing a report on the license plate readers that police are using.

In its report — You Are Being Tracked — the ACLU says it doesn’t object when the tracking devices are “used to identify people who are driving stolen cars or are subject to an arrest warrant. But they should not become tools for tracking where each of us has driven.” ACLU attorney Catherine Crump writes:

What can location data reveal about people? Trips to places of worship, political protests, or gun ranges can be powerful indicators of people’s beliefs. Is it really the government’s business how often you go to the drug store or liquor store, what doctors you visit, and the identities of your friends?

I’m sure all of us can remember something from our past that could embarrass us. If the government comes to suspect you of something in 2020, should it have access to databases stretching back years that could dig up facts about you that previously went unnoticed?

Minnesota has tightened the rules on the data, limiting its availability to the public and the length of time authorities can hold it. The Minnesota State Patrol, for example, holds the data for only 48 hours, among the lowest of any police department surveyed.

But it’s another step in the surveillance society, the ACLU’s Crump writes. “As electric companies convert to ‘smart grids’ that provide them data about the patterns of your electricity usage, it could well become apparent when you take a shower and whether you run your dishwasher more frequently than others.”


An NPR blog post this week, combined with the response to the Cheerios ad I told you about two days ago, rekindles an old question: When exactly do people learn to hate people who aren’t just like them?

This is the photo that got the attention of the Code Switch blog, the NPR project on race:

Photographer Joseph Crachiola posted the picture, which he took in Michigan in 1973, on his Facebook page. He wants to find the kids and find out what happened to them.

Crachiola says he was reminded of the photo upon learning of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.

I shot this photograph forty years ago in Mt. Clemens, Michigan – July 31, 1973 – while working for a suburban Detroit newspaper. It was a seemingly insignificant moment. I was walking down a side street and saw some children playing. They saw me and said, “Hey mister, take our picture!” The pose was completely spontaneous. I shot several frames and moved on.

The picture ran somewhere inside the paper and was probably forgotten about, but for me it still stands as one of my most meaningful pictures. It makes me wonder. When is innocence lost? At what point do we begin to mistrust one another? When do we begin to judge one another based on gender or race?

I have always wondered what happened to these children. I wonder if they are still friends. In light of the current state of affairs in this country I can’t help but wonder if we couldn’t all learn something from them. ©Joseph Crachiola.

“Kids naturally love each other. They have to be taught by adults to do otherwise,” a commenter said.

(h/t: Kate Moos)


It has been more than a year since Seth Collins’ younger brother Aaron died and left behind a wish for his family to leave a large tip for some unsuspecting server.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the mission was accomplished in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

Seth, who is from Kentucky, is traveling the country and intends to leave a big tip in every state in honor of his brother. Videos of each tip are posted on the website.


Dylan Masone posted on Twitter the other night that if he got 1,000 retweets, he’d jump on the field at the All Star Game. He got 1,000 retweets and jumped on the field and headed for second base. Click the image to see what happened.

Fan on field body slammed #allstargame #bodyslam #citifield

He’s a Yankees fan. Of course.

(h/t: Paul Tosto)

That wasn’t even the most pathetic human display on All Star Night. This was. Fox Sports phonied up the Sweet Caroline segment to create a reality that didn’t exist. The crowd was actually disinterested in Neil Diamond.

Take a note, Minnesota, because you get this nonsense next year.

Related: Glen Perkins, the Minnesota Twins All Star, made a movie of his experience at the game.


NPR has the backstory:

In a new episode, TED Radio Hour explored the idea of collaboration. The kind of collaboration that has led to game-changing advancements like Wikipedia and CAPTCHAs , which capitalize on internet-security puzzles to digitize books and teach foreign languages for free.

In his TED Talk, Clay Shirky, a leader in studying the effects of new technologies, explains how small moments of free time for individuals around the world – “cognitive surplus” he calls it – have made way for these mass collaborations that are changing the world. He told TED Radio Hour Host Guy Raz that people in the United States have an average 30-35 hours of free time a week, and people, especially the younger generation, are not just watching television.

Bonus I: The Current volunteer suffers severe head injury in bike accident (City Pages).

Bonus II: Why Is Netflix Secretly Cropping Movies? (Flavorwire) h/t: Ben Chorn

Bonus III:
You’re following Win Borden on Facebook, right? Because there’s no one else in Minnesota writing more poignant essays on life .

Last night at the farm, the temperature never dropped below 70 and today the humidity is high and the heat is on with a high projected in the 90’s. Oh my.

I know some bemoan the heat and humidity. And some wonder how I can live comfortably in a old farm house with a wood furnace and a wood stove in the kitchen and no A/C, I guess it is what you get used to. People lived well for centuries without air conditioning. And the heat will pass. I thought about that at sunset last night. The wonderus moon was looking down on me and seemed to say, “Don’t complain about the heat–in just two months I will be shining down on you and you will worry about the coming frost.” Oh my. She’s right. Minnesota weather–constantly changing. I love it.

And the plants, for the most part, love it as well. Sure the crop of shell peas and pea pods were cut short by the heat, but the zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, and sweet corn love the heat. They seem to say, just give me water and watch me grow. I laugh. The few folks who complained last week that the zucchini were too small will be able to purchase baseball bat sized zucchini this week. Funny–at least to me.

Now the old farm truck is loaded with produce and off to the farmers market in Nisswa (American Legion from 8 to 12:30) and at 10 AM the farm will open to the public.

Oh I could bemoan the heat and frankly I do not like my daily trip from the farm for my radiation therapy, but I am standing up good under the heat and the radiation. And while I have a couple of hours of free time I will not bemoan my fate. The sales stand needs to be organized–even if I can’t organize myself. I laugh as I go at it.

And in my spare time I am going to make some simple flower arrangements of black eyed susans, and oriental lilies–simple country arrangements. The flowers stuff inside a cloud of the best baby’s breath I have every grown. Such fun.

My goal today is to think cool and extract as much pleasure from the day as possible. I trust you will do the same. Because? This day will soon be gone–never to again return. Enjoy it to the ultimate I hope you will. It will be good for you and those close to you.

Bonus IV: The homecoming.

Should foie gras be banned in Minnesota?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: How Minnesota is ending the use of restraints in state institutions.

Second hour: The life of a foreign aid worker.

Third hour: Graduation testing in Minnesota.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival about innovations in transportation for the 21st century.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – Sen. Rand Paul on Sexual Assault in the Military | Mandela Day In South Africa and the U.S. | Radical New Therapy Developed for Down’s Syndrome

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Dan Olson meets Otis Zanders and the work he does as head of an organization aimed at helping young African American men. Zanders is a native of Mississippi and the retired director of the Red Wing correctional facility for juveniles.

The All Things Considered tour of grills around the world nibbles its way to Japan. Japanese grilling doesnt involve huge flames or giant slabs of meat. Its a quieter, bite-sized approach to the summer barbeque. NPR blows the lid of Yakitori, a Japanese style of grilling.

  • MrE85

    1) I could have done without the “smart grid” conspiracy mention. We badly need to upgrade our electrical power infrastructure (as some Woodbury & Minneapolis residents know all too well) with systems that do a better job. Unfortunately, some people buy into the conspiracy theory that the “government is spying” on people who have electric meters that can be read automatically, instead of sending meter readers to people’s homes. As a result, some badly need work has been delayed due to the needless fear of a few. This story has been well documented in Midwest Energy News.

    How would I like it if the power usage at Stately Moffitt Manor was tracked and compared to others? It already is — and we love getting the quarterly reports.

    • It’s not about whether the Smart Grid is or isn’t a good idea. But look at it this way. Suppose you’re accused of a crime and when the cops ask you for an alibi, you say I was home watching , TV and doing the laundry. Then they show you the data that says your washing machine didn’t run and your TV wasn’t on? Now, I presume people would say “good, someone’s electric data can be used to catch a bad guy.”

      But still, the question is obvious: Where do you go for some privacy. And what power to you have – or will you have — to deny access to your personal life?

      • MrE85

        That’s a question for our lawmakers and the courts to decide. And since we vote for the lawmakers and at least some of the judges, I guess the buck starts and stops with us. What do you say, America?

        I dare say my grocery store knows more about me and my habits then the local police do. If I use a discount card, they know my address, my likely income, if I own or rent, and how often I buy ice cream. The police just have my dog’s license number.

        I understand the potential risks that come with new technology. I also understand that the Boys in the Powdered Wigs didn’t really have Smart Grids and Plate Readers in mind when they drafted the Fourth Amendment.
        Or did they? Stay tuned.

        • // That’s a question for our lawmakers and the courts to decide.

          So you’re not really into the whole “government by the people for the people” thing?
          We’re not meant to be innocent bystanders to the process, Bob.

      • Tyler

        Bob, I think a far bigger problem is the fact that all of our phone calls, internet data, and even whom we send letters to are monitored. Running the dishwasher or watching Netflix is small potatoes in comparison.

        • the mistake you’re making is you;re buying into the notion that there is a difference between some data and other data. There isn’t. It’s all data. It’s all a piece of you and it’s all put TOGETHER. That’s how data collection works. Insignificant fragments are put together to paint a complete picture.

          • KTN

            Right, what is lost is the aggregation of the data sources. Sure, my electrical usage alone is pretty benign, but this is not about a single event, it is about the pervasiveness, and ubiquitous nature of the data collection.

          • Guest

            Good point, although I think my phone records, emails, browsing habits etc are FAR more incriminating than my electrical consumption.

          • I don’t want to repeat myself but , again, I guess I will. It’s ALL potentially incriminating because data MINING is about putting it all together. In the surveillance society, we’ve been spent decades shrugging and saying “(fill in name of data here) isn’t a big deal, it’s not very important.” And we’ve done it so much that we’ve ignored the fact that all of that “not big deal” data put together is a very big deal. It’s you. Every second of you.

          • tboom

            It is indeed a very big deal.

            The new smart water meters that have been installed or soon will be installed around the Twin Cities send data packaged in 15 minute increments. From that data it’s easy to figure out how many people live in a residence, when they sleep, when they get up, when the home is vacant, when they are on vacation, when they shower, how often they shower, when they flush the toilet, when they do laundry, etc. Water utilities are owned by municipalities … so, is this data now public information? Can anybody walk in and request my meter record (or pull it up online)?

            Now combine my smart water meter information with my internet accessible property tax data, throw in smart electric meter data and phone call data and my life is an open book.

            Heck, the gas company just installed a new meter a few weeks ago … I suppose that’s a smart meter too.

            And I don’t even have a good imagination!

  • andy

    #3) This story brings a smile to my face. I’m the furthest thing from wealthy, but I always over-tip. I’m a sucker for tip jars too. Going around giving large tips is something I would love to do someday.

    I once went through a car wash and had no cash for the guy who was wiping down cars. I told him I would return with his tip. He laughed and told me not worry about it. The look on his face was priceless when I returned an hour or so later with his tip.

  • wendywulff

    On #1: when I was on the Lakeville City Council, we did a pilot program with the license plate readers. The Council was very clear that we would only participate if the data on plates that had no hits would not be retained at all. People need to hold their elected official accountable. They could be protecting your privacy if they wanted to.

  • You know, I pretty much peg the whack-a-doo meter when it comes to personal privacy, but I have no problem whatever with the license plate readers and associated tracking.

    We have no reasonable expectation of privacy on public thoroughfares.

    When I wrote my most recent book way back in 1999 on privacy and access to information, I was absolutely convinced that corporate privacy invasions were a much more serious threat than governmental. Boy, was I wrong. But that was pre-9/11 and all the security theater since.

    I’ve repeatedly said that the EU has the personal privacy issue nailed with its data protection directive: Information about an individual can only be collected for a specific purpose and used only for the purpose for which it was collected.

    The US could do worse than adopt something similar, thereby making the smart grid monitoring issue moot.

    • As with all privacy issues, I think the key is what happens to the data. As I said at 4:20 yesterday, for example, it’s when all the fragments of data are allowed to be married, that I think the question becomes a little more important. So when the guy on CBS this morning said, “hey, we catch a lot of stolen cars this way,” I think it obscures the real issue.

      I’m also not willing to stipulate to the fact we have no expectation of privacy on a public thoroughfare and I will continue to until the government says I can be stopped without probable cause. Which, shouldn’t be too long, now.

      • wendywulff

        License plate cameras mounted on squad cars are very helpful for officer safety. Instead of trying to drive and type at the same time, the system does it for you and alerts the officer if something comes up, so they can concentrate on driving and doing the rest of their job. Aggregating the data instead of discarding it, and making it available to the public is not necessary for the system to function, and jeopardizes an important safety tool by bring in complications that don’t need to be there.

      • KTN

        Over at Volokh, Professor Kerr has a long detailed post on the constitutionality of phone companies collecting metadata and the Fourth Amendment. Pretty geeky reading, but as one of the foremost experts on the Fourth, his analysis is thorough and outlines rights of the public and the companies collecting the metadata.


        • I agree with Orin Kerr that under current US law, the telephone call metadata collection is perhaps within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment — but cogent arguments could be made either way. The argument that numbers dialed is public information because it’s provided by the individual to the telecommunications provider is pretty dang thin and the underlying legal premise (going back to an individual’s bank records belonging to the bank, not the individual) wrong-headed.

          That’s why I’d really like to see the US adopt something very close to the EU’s data protection directive. It would simplify and clarify a lot of this.

      • I’d be interested in hearing more about your assertion of privacy on a public street.

        I absolutely agree that to be stopped or searched requires probable cause (in the case of being stopped) and a warrant (in the case of a search).

        But the data associated with your movement (walking or driving) on a public sidewalk or street isn’t private information, nor is it reasonable to expect it to be.

        At the risk of oversimplifying: The information that you rode your bike from Woodbury to the MPR offices is public; the contents of your pockets or bike panniers is private.

        The formulation of the EU data protection directive sprang precisely from the problems associated with combining disparate data sets (data matching and datamining).

  • Noelle

    Thanks for posting about Winston Borden – I hadn’t heard of him before today, and loved reading a few of his essays. Sadly he has reached Facebook’s 5,000 friend limit, so I will have to bookmark his profile!

  • Dave

    “I can’t help but wonder if we couldn’t all learn something from them.”

    What exactly can we learn from them? I think this is a platitude.

    Children are much more “equal” than adults. They have no income, so they have no income inequality. They have no responsibilities, so they have relatively little stress. The white kids in that photo have almost the same life as the black kids. There is no reason for there to be any animosity between any of them.

    Most importantly, none of them care about money. Life becomes more “interesting” when you begin to fend for yourself, when you must earn your own money, and when you have responsibilities. We might learn something about kids from kids, but we certainly won’t learn anything about race relations.

    On the other hand, maybe I just disproved my own point. I believe that income inequality is the root of racism. Fix that and end racism.