Schools To Get Face-Remembering Cameras

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The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.


Adolescence is, if nothing else, a time when identity is up for grabs. You can hang out with the football team for a few months and then, if that's not working out, suddenly come to school in Hot Topic mourning garb and win yourself a pack of new goth friends. Do it convincingly enough, and the next time you pass by your old friends in the hall, they might barely recognize you.

So it seems extremely optimistic that, as USA Today reports, a school district in Nashville is planning to become the first in the nation to install security cameras with face-recognition software that can spot intruders.

Starting Dec. 1, the 75,000-student district will equip three schools and administration building with cameras that can detect an unfamiliar face or someone barred from school grounds, a school official said. They cost $30,000.

Nashville will take digital photos of students and workers at three test schools and store them in the new camera system. When a camera spots a face in a school that it cannot match to a stored photo, it will alert security. The system could also detect suspended and expelled students and fired employees, the official said.

But why stop there? If cameras can digitally track exactly who is where, why not use them to see who's cutting class? That's what Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union seemed to fear when he said the cameras' widespread use could let authorities "track you throughout the day."

As Melissa Ngo of the Electronic Privacy Information Center put it, "Schools should not feel like some sort of prison."

A successful test in Nashville could lead other districts to use the technology. But the precendents aren't promising. An elementary school in Phoenix installed face-recognition cameras in 2004 to find sex offenders but never turned them on because of concern they would flag innocent people.

Who's Afraid Of The Ghost Of Walter Mondale?

Are Democrats finally ready to exorcise the ghost of Walter Mondale from their approach to tax policy? The Los Angeles Times suggest they may be.

Mondale's been haunting the party ever since he called for tax increases and lost to Ronald Reagan in the bone-crushing landslide of 1984. Democrats have been skittish about mentioning the "t" word ever since, the paper reports.

But now that's beginning to change, as the growing gap between rich and poor has made the notion of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans more politically palatable.

"Income inequality has become an increasingly salient issue at a time when, amid news of astronomical corporate salaries, many people feel economically insecure about such bread-and-butter items as healthcare, pensions and college costs," the paper reports.

Some leading Democrats are proposing an array of tax hikes on wealthier Americans. They include House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel of New York -- who proposed an additional tax on wealthy people and a levy on hedge fund managers to help pay for easing a tax burden on the middle class. And former N.C. Sen. John Edwards, whose tax plan involves raising taxes on the rich to cut them for the middle class.

"The top 300,000 income-earners in America now make more than the bottom 150 million combined," Edwards said when unveiling his tax plan. "Our tax code has shifted most of the burden onto the backs of working Americans."

But Republicans lick their lips when Democrats talk like this. They have called Rangel's bill the "mother of all tax hikes." And Michael Steel, spokesman for the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, suggested the Democrats were "possibly overconfident," adding. "Apparently, after only one or two major tax increases in the past 25 years, they don't remember what a salient issue it is."

How Some Dusty Old Cassette Tapes Axed A Mob Murder Trial

The story started with a post to the Village Voice's website Tuesday, and hit the front page of the New York Times yesterday. By today, it was in all caps across the city's tabloids: how two reporters' decade-old cassette tapes killed a quadruple murder case against an ex-FBI supervisor accused of working for the mob.

The reporters, Tom Robbins and Jerry Capeci, former colleagues at the New York Daily News, had interviewed mob moll Linda Schiro 10 years ago for a book that was never published. During the interview, they asked her some questions that were very similar to the ones she was asked on the witness stand over the last few weeks in the trial of ex-FBI supervisor Roy Lindley DeVecchio. But they got some very different answers.

This put the reporters, as Robbins noted in his own account in the Voice, in the mother of all binds. A man was facing life in prison based on the words of a witness they knew to be a liar (in at least one of the two tellings, anyway). But they had promised her strict confidentiality. In the end, Robbins wrote they decided that, "The threat of a life sentence trumps a promise."

And so the charges in the "sensational quadruple murder case," as the New York Times calls it, were dropped yesterday, with much ink spilled today surveying the wreckage for "warming signs" of Schiro's shakiness. Some of that ink goes into looking into the reporters' decision-making process.

In June, defense lawyers issued a subpoena to Capeci, demanding all material in his possession related to a book proposal and talks with Schiro. He and his lawyer fought it, and a judge quashed it, citing shield laws that protect journalists. Robbins was not subpoenaed, but told the Times that had he been, he would have fought it, too.

But then the trial started, and the reporters watched as the prosecution built the entire case on Schiro's testimony. "That was when we realized that we had a problem," Robbins told the Times. He decided he'd be the one to step forward because his beat dealt less directly with the world of organized crime (Capeci writes a weekly column for the Web site ganglandnews.com.), and thus he had less to lose.

The Times writes about the scoop with obvious admiration. "In an industry of recent journalism school graduates competing with young bloggers, the tale of Mr. Robbins and Mr. Capeci is one of two veteran shoe-leather reporters who had old cassette tapes stashed away in a closet." (Full disclosure: I worked with Robbins at the Voice.)

"Some of us old geezer maybe can't move as fast as the younger guys," said Capeci, who is 63, "but we know how to get from place to place."

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