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Going Through the Garbage 730

Posted by michael
from the taking-out-the-trash dept.
frankejames writes "This is a very funny piece on how Portland politicians said it was okay for police to seize a citizen's garbage without a search warrant. But when some reporters swiped their garbage (and reported the contents!) they screamed foul play! Read Portland's top brass said it was OK to swipe your garbage--so we grabbed theirs."
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Going Through the Garbage

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  • Anthro (Score:5, Interesting)

    by andyrut (300890) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @04:52PM (#4990750) Homepage Journal
    There's a whole division of physical anthropology dedicated to the study of people's garbage. Basically, a scientist goes door to door and asks people questions about their consumer habits (how many beers do you drink a week?). Later, they go dumpster diving to verify the survey questions.

    The lying on these surveys is astounding.
  • by nick this (22998) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:05PM (#4990846) Journal
    I have to call foul on this one.

    Either the garbage, once placed on the curb, is the private property of the owner (in which case the police must get a warrant) or it is not. If it is not the private property of the owner, then it must be legal for a private citizen to paw through. Period. Those are the only two alternatives. The idea that it's okay for police to paw through it without a warrant but not for private citizens is bullshit.

    I really don't give a damn if it makes it difficult for policemen to do their job. Thats how it is. We are supposed to be a freedom-loving country. I'll agree that it would be nice if the job of the police could be made easier without restricting citizens civil rights. But it can't. And I won't give up my liberties to make it easier for police to do their jobs. I just won't.

    Its un-American. By doing things like this (Patriot act, anyone?) we devalue the price American citizens paid to secure those liberties. They paid with their lives. Don't be so quick to throw that away.

    Grumble.
  • Re:Sonuvabitch! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aftk2 (556992) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:07PM (#4990855) Homepage Journal
    Heh...and don't forget breast-grabbing, pregnant-woman-exposing airport security workers. [lewrockwell.com] This story about Portland International Airport has been spreading like wildfire; another blow to my already beleaguered state.
  • by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:09PM (#4990868) Journal
    If you are a cop they why do you have the following posted in your Journal?

    "There is a kid at my school who has a badge on his backpack (attached with a safety pin) with the words "Superjew" on it. What should I do?"

    Doesn't sound like much of a cop to me.
  • Re:confused... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PsychoElf (571371) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:09PM (#4990870)
    In Tennessee its not legal to go through and take someones trash. I work at a retail store and just an hour ago we caught someone going through our trash. We got their license # and reported it to the police because it is considered theft. It is our property till we pay someone else to take it from us. Just because it sits in a container doesnt mean it's free game.
  • by avandesande (143899) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:10PM (#4990874) Journal
    I agree to a point. I think the police should be able to seize the garbage and then search it if they obtain a search warrent. I don't think this would be much different than towing a suspects car, and then searching it later with warrent.

    because the police are an investigation bureaucracy devoted to helping people
    I am sure that whomevers privacy is being violated could care less which bureaucracy is doing it, and what their intentions are!
  • by BWJones (18351) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:10PM (#4990879) Homepage Journal
    Because being a policeman myself, I know that by the time a search warrant is signed off by a judge and executed (around a week), the trash will be long gone. So, the policeman have a perfectly valid argument.

    So, your argument is based upon timeframes of achieving due process and getting a warrant? No offense, but I don't think that would stand up in any court of law. In fact, if I recall, precedent has been set by stating anyone who puts their garbage on the sidewalk is relinquishing any ownership.

    The councilman have every right to call foul play, because the police are an investigation bureaucracy devoted to helping people (legally),

    The problem here is one of giving government authorities more and more access to privacy which some fear may prove to be a problem if governments ever decide they are devoted to self service and not to providing a service to their constituents.

    while the reporters are going through garbage in order to report what bills the councilman paid last week (illegally).

    And how is this illegal? I agree that it might be irritating, yes, but how is this any different in a legal sense from the police going through garbage? The point of this is that people are trying to illustrate the duplicity of many government policies that are playing off of fear in the current political climate. Total Information Awareness anyone?

  • Reasoning... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by qat (637648) <admin.pleaseeat@us> on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:13PM (#4990894) Homepage
    I don't think it was the fact that they took the garbage that made them mad. It was almost definatly the fact that they reported the contents. example, if you are throwing out an old computer, you don't know what it's good for! It's old and slow with nothing on it. However, some guy that knows computers back and around, decides he could salvage it, so takes it. Would you be made? Nah, it was headed for the dump anyways. However, he finds your secret porno stash from the 1940's and starts selling the videos, or simply tells other people. Do you want people knowing your a porn addict? Probably not. But do you mind if somebody salvages a few parts from what you think is a worthless computer? Again, most likely, no. It's all in the intended use.
  • Re:2600 Mag (Score:3, Interesting)

    by antis0c (133550) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:20PM (#4990948)
    Bulk pickup day is also a good day to go diving. I scored a number of usable monitors that can do 800x600 SVGA. I still use one of them to switch between my little server farm in my computer room.

    Also, it doesn't hurt to say you are a college student looking for hardware to practice on. I got a guy to go back in his house and give me to stuff he wasn't planning on trashing.
  • by Cyclometh (629276) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:23PM (#4990963)

    believe that courts have routinely ruled that once you put your garbage on the street, it isn't yours anymore. IMHO, anybody -- cops, reporters, garbage collects, dumpster divers -- are be free to go through it. I might not like it, but I threw it out. It ain't mine no more.

    You may be correct about what the courts have ruled (I don't know if there's clear case law or precedent set) but that does not mean that the police can use a search of your trash to compile evidence against you. Law enforcement is and must be held to a higher standard; searches of your garbage by police seeking evidence of a crime, is, in my opinion, tantamount to a search of your effects, and should be protected under the 4th Amendment.

    And as I stated above, the 4th Amendment does not only apply to things you own yourself. Rented houses, leased cars, and other items you don't own are protected from search by government officials- why not your trash?

  • Consider this.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:23PM (#4990969)
    What would your response be if someone had "planted" garbage on your curbside... and that garbage contained photo's of naked young boys in comprimising positions ?

    Well.... you could just claim it wasn't yours.... of course, excuses wont get you far.
  • About as much as... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:26PM (#4990987)
    ...I like the idea of the government poking through my trash without a search warrant. When living in a suburban community I found the police polite, respectful, and extremely helpful. Since moving to the big city I've found the police to be rude, threatening without cause, verbally abusive, and have even witnessed blatent policy brutality and unreasonable violence. If a cop ever asks permission to enter my home, asks me even a simple question, or for a damn thing, I'll tell him/her no. Not without a warrant. And I'd like to speak with a lawyer, please. No matter what the situation.

    As a nearing middle age white guy I now see police as an enemy to basic civil order within society. I didn't used to think this way, but seeing many officers abuse their position and responsibility toward citizens has left me disrespectful of police authority. I don't break the law and the police have had little reason to interfere with my life. Thank God I'm not a minority. Racial profiling, unreasonable threats, rudeness, obvious police brutality is ruining what little trust is left of police throughout society. This is only making it harder for the many good cops who walk the beat out there. And yes, I know there are a lot of good cops out there who work a hard and dangerous job in miserable conditions.

    BTW: I used to donate to the FOP. NEVER AGAIN!!!
  • by renegade600 (204461) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:28PM (#4990999)
    I worked at Walmart at one time and found there are individuals in town who will go through trash on the curb and take only the broken items that they think Walmart will exchange. I had a city employee who almost got a refund for a non working sanyo tv that was in a brand new sanyo box. Fortunately I caught it just as the refund was being approved. There was another individual who was returning a weed eater for exchange and it turned out it was put on the curb by the Sporting Goods Dept manager the day before.

    Also lets not forget about those who have yard sales, a neighbor of mine took a broken down table and a few other items I put on the side of the road and I found them at their yard sale a few months later.

    Needless to say, if restrictions were place on trash, there will be those who will have to look for another source of income.

    Side note: If you have stuff that can be embarrassing to you and if there is nothing in the garbage that can lead to you, throw the trash into a local dumpster or accidently place it on the curb in front of your neighbors home and blame it on the wild dogs. :-)
  • Re:hypocrites (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Saeger (456549) <farrellj@noSpaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:30PM (#4991009) Homepage
    Beaurocrats often think themselves above the law because they're obviously the "good guys", and in order to do their job they shouldn't be subject to the same inconveniences. It's only the rest of us potential-terrorist peons who should have to prove our innocence by showing we have nothing to hide.

    People despise one-way mirrors for perfectly valid reasons, and I hope the magnifying glass stays focused on those behind it until it's replaced with transparent glass, or brick. (ick... this analogy needs work :)

    --

  • Re:Anthro (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jkcity (577735) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:31PM (#4991011) Homepage
    hmmm if they asked my GF how much beer she drank in a week she would say none, if they went to the trash they would find about 50 empty tins from me and my friends, so would they assume she was lying?
  • by Skyshadow (508) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:33PM (#4991028) Homepage
    Folks, this is not a case of stolen "property". This is an involuntary medical examination; an invasion of privacy to the highest degree.

    Liberal nonsense. Obviously, if this lady cop actually wanted to retain her constituational rights, she should have known better than to put her used tampons in the trash. Instead, she should be stockpiling her tampons like all good freedom-loving American women do.

    Seriously, though, this is just another example of an alarming trend in American law: The destruction of rights via the control chokepoints.

    For example, if a cop pulls you over on the road, you cannot refuse a breathalizer exam without automatically losing your license. As such, you effectively don't have the right *not* to give up evidence (since the punishment for not giving up said evidence is just like the punishment for the crime of drunk driving, it becomes a moot point). This is technically constituational even though it's blatently a jackbooted tactic.

    In this case, they're using your garbage against you. Since we all generate refuse which we need to get rid of, this is another effective way to end-run around our rights. You obviously can get astounding amounts of info from the average person's garbage -- no warrent needed.

    We (and I mean "We" as in "We the People") put up with this even though we see it's fascist bullshit. We think it's important to make the police's job easier (even when we're just encouraging random searches that can't earn a warrant), or that we're fighting terrorists. Or maybe we're just too lazy and distracted to care, what with all the bread and circuses.

    And it sucks.

  • by Anonvmous Coward (589068) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:36PM (#4991047)
    " By putting it on the curb, you have shown that you want the city to come and take it away."

    I disagree. People should be able to discard all evidence of wrong doing so that they can maintain their freedom!

    Okay, bad time for a joke like that. I half agree. Ever hear of a 'search warrant'? Due process? If the city has a search warrant to go through my garbage, that's fine. The ability to do it willy nilly is wrong. Fortunately, WW proved to the right people why it's wrong. It's nosey.

    There are matters of privacy here. What if they found a pair of panties a little too small for the politician's wife? Funny? Yes. Our business? No.
  • Re:If you... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dimwit (36756) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:38PM (#4991053)
    Which, incidentially, is about 7 - 10 more than the average pay of Texas schoolteachers.

    Not to disparage the work of sanitation engineers, but I think teachers should make at least as much...
  • Re:Anthro (Score:5, Interesting)

    by marcelmouse (74690) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:39PM (#4991068)
    As a social anthropologist and veteran Portland dumpster-diver, I'm going to have to take issue with this. It would be relatively easy to design a study (this isn't actually an experiment, of course) to take this into account.

    "When someone in your house reads a porno mag, does s/he toss it when it's soiled, or keep it?"

    "... no one in this house reads pornos."

    Next garbage day, I find that my informants not only toss the pornos, but toss them when they appear to be unsoiled! Not that I investigate too closely, mind you...

    THis is a fictional account of how one might design a simple study that 1) wasn't full of sh1t, and 2) reveals some truths about the consumption patterns of the house in question. It's all about how you ask; good questions are hard to think up, and that's more than 90% of good anthropology.

    Now, using dumpster diving to make a point about inconsistent standards in privacy, that doesn't require any good study design standards at all. Moral inconsistencies are really easy to reveal, and even clueless laymen (read: willie week reporters) can pull it off without a sweat.

    However, don't write off the truths that can be found in the garbage just because not *every* study that involves trash is done with rigor - good design goes a lot further than nifty jscript menus.

    (no, anthro isn't a science. just wanted to get that out of the way. of course, that doesn't mean that it can't establish truths in a rigorous manner...)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:45PM (#4991099)
    Quite a similar thing happened in Australia. John Safran, a young rebellious media maverick putting together a pilot for a new TV show, decided to show up at the house of Ray Martin, the host of one of Australia's rather sleazy "investigative current affairs" shows.

    The host of this show certainly didn't cope with being the victim of the same tactics that his reporters use on all sorts of down and out storekeepers. Watch the most amusing video here [chez.com].

    Go Aussies!
  • by rdmiller3 (29465) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @05:57PM (#4991160) Journal
    Let me get this straight...

    You're saying it's legal for police to take a blood sample from a bandaid in my garbage, just because it's set out on the street,

    ...even while at the same the Privacy Act makes it illegal for them to record what I say on my cheap cordless phone, broadcasting to the whole block. According to the law, they're not even allowed to try to listen.

    Well, does that make any sense? They can't listen to my "private" conversations but they can take tissue samples any time they want??

  • by RealAlaskan (576404) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @06:21PM (#4991310) Homepage Journal
    You don't necessarily have to own something for it to be protected from search under the 4th Amendment.

    I'm no lawyer, but it looks as if you're going strong. Keep going: a logical extension might be something like this: Your ownership interests and your privacy interests are not identical, and you may have a privacy interest in something which you never owned, or in something which you no longer own.

    As a serious dumpster diver, the idea that your trash remains your property bugs me. Does that mean that if I go to the dumpster and grab something good, I'm stealing? When does it STOP being yours? If your trash is spilled on the way to the dump, are YOU the litter-bug?

    We shouldn't confuse ownership with privacy. As you were on the verge of pointing out, they are different.

    The difference is if we try to assert ownership in order to assert privacy, we have to screw up a lot of existing arrangements which are perfectly satisfactory. If we try to assert privacy without regard to ownership, we might do ourselves some good.

  • by PhreakOfTime (588141) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @06:26PM (#4991331) Homepage

    Your direction of thought is good, but I dont quite think you understand the internet if your asking those questions, for example...

    What about information on a HTML page - with no links leading to it?

    That is BY DEFINITION public. If your running a web SERVER, your intent is obviously to make data accesible. If you cant figure out not to put your PIN number on a web page, you need to do some more reading. You have to EXPLICITLY allow a certain port to be open, and to resond with public data. Why you think this should be private is beyond me. If you spray paint your PIN number on your car in big yellow numbers, isnt it obvious that other people are going to read it, even though its not public because its 'on' your car?

    For instance, is unencrypted email now public information?

    If you ever thought that unencrytped mail was ever private, umm...Ive got some bad news for you. Think of email as a postcard, yes its addressed to someone else, but anyone who happens to be around in the travels of that postcard really has no problem reading it. Once again, do NOT put your PIN number in an email

    The fact that this still needs explaining bothers me a great deal.

    Perhaps the "Don't Rape" sign should really go on the Constitution - particularly the Fourth Amendment.

    This, however, I agree with

    But, whats the reason this happens? Why do they do this? Answer: Because they can! I mean your sitting her postulating in a comfy chair how this applies to the internet, while this crap is probably going on in your home town...go talk to your librarians about it, they will be glad to let you in on all the wonderful stuff that is being done now, oh wait, its a felony [iww.org] for them to tell you.

  • Re:Fraud? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by afidel (530433) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @06:36PM (#4991369)
    two dimensional shredders that make confetti should make it pretty darn impossible to reconstruct any documents, especially if they use the rotating cutter method. Don't think that just burning your receipts is sufficient, the ink can be recovered with chemical processes if the ashes are intact, so you still need to pulverise the results, so why not skip the burning stage and just pulverise them correctly in the first place.
  • by cmburns69 (169686) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @07:14PM (#4991556) Homepage Journal
    It seems to me that the of the three politicians, the Mayor was the most pissed off about the invasion of privacy. She also probably had the least to do with the crafting of the policy since she the Oregon police have been doing this for decades.

    The Chief of Police was next on the list, and he was never quoted as saying anything legally threatening.

    The DA got the point of the 'prank' and even played along a bit.

    The Mayor was the only one that hinted at criminal charges, and that was only a threat.

    Nobody is saying you shouldn't be pissed off if somebody dives through your garbage, only that it isn't illegal.

    This might just be the catalyst that is needed to change the policy.

    StarCraft RPG? [netnexus.com]
  • by MWoody (222806) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @07:19PM (#4991572)
    Hmmm... This article indicates a need for a non-government trash collection agency. I wonder if there's enough demand to support a company that, for just a few more dollars a week than the gov't, collects your garbage, transports it securely, and makes certain it is either destroyed or disposed of in an untraceable manner. Instead of in a city-supplied bin on the curb, you'd be able to keep your trash on your property (leave it in the front yard or something) in a container clearly marked as NOT for normal curbside pickup. You'd just sign a contract at the start of the service giving the company limited rights to enter onto your property for the sole purpose of anonymously disposing of your trash.

    Really, if you're going to use a government organization to dispose of your waste, don't be surprised when they give it a quick glance before shuffling it off to the heap. If you've got something to hide - or just don't like big brother's latex-gloved hand collecting your used kleenex or more "personal" items - find a private alternative.

    I guess this idea is similar to the shredding services used by many companies. But does anyone know if a similar service is available for homes for a reasonable price?
  • by dunelin (111356) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @08:32PM (#4991886)
    In the article, the reporters talked about taking trash from two of the individuals and recycling from the mayor. I don't know about Oregon law, but where I'm from, it's the state (or whoever has the contract to pick up recycling) who legally owns the recycled material when it's put on the curb in the proper container. While it would be OK to take trash under any circumstances (as long as you don't dump it illegally), recycling is protected from individuals taking redeemable cans and from reporters. I'm not quite sure about police, since they probably would be given permission by the recycling company or by the state gov't to take the recycling too.

    The reporters could indeed get in trouble for taking the recycled objects, but I don't know if tresspassing would apply. Probably more like petty larceny (all the paper material taken is probably worth about five cents).

    P.S. Remember, never put anything related to drugs in the recycling, especially needles. It's usually people, not machines, who sort the bottles and stuff at the recycling plant, and you don't want them getting hurt in the process of doing their jobs.
  • by MacAndrew (463832) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @09:11PM (#4992001) Homepage
    Read the Greenwood dissent, Justices Marshall and Brennan agreed with you, and mention the mailbox analogy. Now, they're both dead, the decision was 6-2, and the Court is now more conservative. You can see the chances of the decision being reversed are zero.

    The modern Court does not always rule against the 4th A. (as in the Kyllo thermal imaging case [go.com] -- see this proposal [nasa.gov] to use satellite surveillance!) but it has given it a pretty hard time.

    Note even without Greenwood, a workaround would not be difficult. Most trash collection and landfills are handled by the gov't; they could require you to sign off any property rights as a condition of collection or disposal. You also need to draw a line somewhere that abandonment has occurred even without the consent of the owner -- for example, in most places that car of yours if left parked more than a certain amount of time (48 hours in Boston) could be ticketed, towed and impounded as abandoned (no, this doesn't mean you've lost ownership, but they can search it for inventory pursuant to impoundment to guard against claims of theft. They would then notify you, and if you don't claim it your ownership right would lapse.) Do you expect your ownership right in the garbage in the dump to persist forever? That could have some unexpected consequences, like if it becomes a Superfund site.

    Oh yeah, they could always try to get a warrant, too... But showing probable cause is a drag.

    Your disagreement is not with me but the SC! And perhaps with your state, for not imposing greater privacy standards which would at least restrict state actors.
  • Re:Fraud? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Znork (31774) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @11:54PM (#4992437)
    That depends on how you reconstruct them. Reconstruction by taping it together would probably be near impossible... but imagine if you could dump all those little wee bits onto a wee conveyor belt that runs them over an automated scanner and then proceeds to try to assemble them in digital form.

    The problem doesnt become easy, but it does become a lot easier. And compared to cracking crypto it becomes downright simple.

    Not that I've ever seen such a device, but I'd be rather surprised if some government agencies did not have something like that.
  • by speedbump (11624) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @04:36PM (#4995015)
    Hey, what do you know, some real, literally hands-getting-dirty investigative reporting.

    I'm totally on the side of the reporters on this one. Since the Supreme Court has already ruled that access to what used to be private property in public areas is allowed, the police may go fishing in a suspect's garbage for evidence. Boo-hoo, that battle has already been lost.

    Conversely, since trash has been put out in public, the Portland politicos have no expectation of privacy either, and have no recourse when the Press turns the tables on them. If I had been one of those reporters, I'd have laughed in the face of the Mayor at her 'summons' to her private chambers.

    Folks, this is what a Free Press is all about. Government is by nature expansionist; the Press, when it is doing its job, is an effective tool in beating back that tendency.

    I particularly savor this kind of approach when dealing with legislative types who propose yet another overly-invasive policy, such as blanket video surveilance, such as that practiced in Washington DC or in London. If I were a citizen of those places, then I'd very publicly petition the populace to mandate video surveilance of all legislative chambers, and use the same arguments put forth to justify general video spying. How would officials like to be watched, every minute of their day, by the public? A citizen referendum which makes an end-run around legislators would be a powerful message from the populace that spying is not necessarily the best possible way to combat crime.

    In general, I am not keen on the idea that police might target me for some reason, and routinely search my garbage. A container in public is far too subject to planting of evidence, in my opinion. But occassionally citizens can and should remind their officials who they work for, and how laws made to ease law enforcement's job may have unintended consequences.

    Hypocricy also runs the other way. Here in Denver, it was recently uncovered by the local press that the Denver police had been maintaining files on citizens who participated in protests, seemingly regardless of the issue involved. it seems the press are complaining that Denver has 'no written policy' concerning the collection of intelligence about citizen dissidents, and darn it, there's got to be a state-wide consistent policy established.

    Interestingly, at the height of this country's gun control phase a couple years ago, the two biggest local papers, who were shilling for ever-stricter gun control laws, did so under the justification that Colorado is a 'home rule' state, meaning that each jurisdiction has the freedom to determine its own policies concerning the enforcement of gun controls within its own boundaries.

    So, while our state constitution clearly states that no person's right to bear arms shall be called into question, the Post and the News argued that Denver City and County had the right under home-rule to abort that constitutional clause within their own borders.

    Now that the issue is police surveilance in a public place, these papers have conveniently forgotten about their holy home-rule stance.

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