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A picture is worth a thousand questions

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© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001

Talk about mixed emotions.

If I was a Super Bowl attendee (about as likely as being appointed to Ye Mystic Krewe and being named George Bush's drug czar in the same weekend), I'm not sure how I would feel about police photographing every one of the people in attendance.

If the guy next to me was a terrorist and had a nuclear weapon under his inflated helmet and a hip-flask of anthrax (the deadly bacteria, not the even more obnoxious rock band of the same name) and the Tampa Police Department caught him in their computerized matching system and hustled him off in a hammerlock -- I would probably think it was a pretty good idea.

Likewise, on the streets of Ybor City, not always the safest place on a weekend night, I have to admit that I feel better knowing that I, and just about everyone else, is being watched by a camera system.

But something about the Super Bowl thing nags at the edges of my concerns for privacy.

The legal question, as phrased by the lawyer types, is whether a person attending an event with more than 70,000 other people has a "reasonable expectation of privacy," of the sort guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

At first it would appear clearly that he or she doesn't, but I think there is a flaw in that reasoning.

People attending the Super Bowl paid money, big money, for what amounted to rent on a seat or box, and were photographed en route to that rented seat. So there is a valid question whether they are entitled to some degree of privacy in or en route to that space.

Or does that mean that employees at a publicly held venue are free to photograph and publicly discuss the comings and goings of married fat-cat corporate types entertaining their girlfriends in their luxury boxes, or tip off newspaper business writers about which CEOs of takeover bait companies are being wined and dined by which takeover sharks.

True enough, a concentrated mass of 100,000 people with network television cameras scanning the audience is probably not the place where smart people hiding from the law would go, but there are other non-criminal reasons to want privacy.

If I called in sick that day and went to the game, that is between me, my boss and my alleged conscience.

If I told my brother-in-law that I couldn't get tickets, and went with a friend, that's between us.

"But this is the government," you well may answer, "the information will be protected."

That's exactly what more than 4,000 Pinellas County AIDS patients thought five years ago when their names started turning up, among other places on computer discs mailed to newspapers because a state employee wanted to use confidential information to screen his dates.

Let's face it, we are on videotape these days almost as often as we are off it. I see myself in cameras every time I buy a lottery ticket at a convenience store, buy gas or pick up my laundry. There are even cameras (but we trust our management) in the Times' New Port Richey office.

We all pull our stomachs in when we walk by the video camera/monitor displays in department stores and millions of visitors for decades have been waving at the cameras at Space Mountain in Disney World -- the place that many of us first saw ourselves on television.

But we are almost always informed, by word of mouth or by signs or by the presence of monitors in clear sight, that we are on camera.

And when Disney is shooting film or tape inside the park, they put signs at the entrance warning people.

Probably the strangest thing about what happened at Raymond James Stadium last week is that they didn't catch any criminals with their sophisticated system of computers comparing faces to databases.

Someone got 71,921 spectators with a lot of extra money on their hands in one place at one time and none of them were crooks?

Then why is it a network can't get 20 people together for a reality television show or a president can't get together a room full of cabinet nominees with the same result?

Recent coverage

Cameras scanned fans for criminals (January 31, 2001)

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