Dear John: You're Online

By Robert MacMillan Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 22, 2005; 8:54 AM

People cruising for sex on the streets of Chicago might want to consider staying home and looking at racy Web sites instead. If not, they could end up on the Web themselves.

The Chicago Police Department is posting the names and photographs of suspects arrested for allegedly soliciting prostitutes. The effort is designed to shame "johns" in the public forum of the Internet, said Mayor Richard Daley.

The site currently contains 21 names and 20 pictures.

"I don't have to tell anyone how fast information travels on the Internet," Daley said, according to the Chicago Tribune. The paper said that the idea of using the Internet was based on recommendations from a task force composed of local law enforcement officials, former prostitutes and representatives from social service agencies that studied the causes and consequences of prostitution.

The move also updates a controversial practice that several cities have tried before on television and in the newspapers. The Tribune noted that Daley himself announced such a plan nearly a decade ago: "In 1996, the mayor announced that Chicago police would begin sending the names and addresses of people charged with solicitation to their hometown newspapers. On Tuesday police officials were unable to say what became of that effort. The Chicago Police Department's vice unit, which handles most of such cases, arrested 3,204 prostitutes and 950 customers last year, officials said. 'If we can use a little embarrassment, we are going to do so,' said Police Supt. Philip Cline, who appeared with Daley at a downtown news conference. Postings represent 'one more deterrent that should make potential customers think twice,' he said."

The Chicago Sun-Times quoted Cline as saying that existing penalties -- fines and vehicle impoundments -- aren't cutting down on the problem: "'It's concentrated in many areas. but it moves from one neighborhood to another. If we put on a lot of police pressure it's going to move a couple blocks,' Cline said. 'Evidently [enforcement alone] doesn't [work], because it's still happening out there.'"

The Tribune explored the record of similar programs in other cities.

Police Lt. Rick Edwards of Akron, Ohio, told the paper that the city's "Operation John Be Gone" Web site drew more than 100,000 hits in its first year online: "'The first thing attorneys for these guys say is, '"What can we do about the picture on the Web site?"' Edwards said. 'Their clients are willing to do more time and pay bigger fines rather than having their photo [on display].' No deals are cut with lawyers over the photos, Edwards said, and the public postings have 'cut down on the trolling in neighborhoods that used to draw prostitutes.'"

Denver uses a community-access TV station to broadcast convicted johns' faces, while Oakland puts their faces on billboards around the city. Kansas City, Mo., stopped using TV to post arrested people's faces after four years, fearing legal complications. Police Capt. Rich Lockhart told the paper that the Kansas City program reduced the amount of "affluent clientele," but that was the only change. Lower-income suspects continued to show up. So far, the Chicago Web site pictures 17 Hispanic and African American suspects, two white suspects and one Asian.

Chicago NBC affiliate WMAQ-TV featured some quotes from several unidentified members of the public: "Put the picture up -- I agree. ... Right on, Mayor Daley!" said one woman. "If they're brave enough to do something like that in public, then I think they get what they deserve," one man said. The report also contains photos and a video.

Daley and Chicago's finest might be onto something that could improve the quality of life in the city, but at some point they'll face a legal challenge. The guys whose photos are being posted have not been convicted of soliciting prostitutes, yet there they are in lurid color on the open Internet, visible to you, me and millions of curious Web surfers. The city might do well to consider securing some convictions first, then running the mug shots. For some, the shame might be worse than jail.

Who's Minding the Drugstore?

CVS customers who signed up for the drugstore chain's flexible spending accounts should ask themselves how comfortable they feel discussing their pharmaceutical buying habits with, oh, the rest of the world.

The Woonsocket, R.I.-based firm found out that a data security flaw in the ExtraCare card service allowed anyone to find out what CVS customers bought by going to the Web site and entering a customer's Zip code and first three letters of his or her last name, the Associated Press reported. "Once logged on, a list of recent purchases could be sent to an e-mail account. Information about prescriptions was not provided, and the list of purchases was only available by e-mail," the wire service said.

The flaw was reported by a group called Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, or CASPIAN. CVS subsequently shut down access to the service. Here's more from the AP: "Eileen Howard Dunn, a CVS spokeswoman, said the company provides the information as a service to customers. She emphasized that prescription information was not available. 'There's no material medical information on there at all,' she said, and CVS said only a very small number of customers had used the service. Spokesman Todd Andrews said CVS was working quickly to put in place either password protection or some other security measure. Until then, customers can get the information by calling customer service, he said."

CASPIAN's founder, Katherine Albrecht, told the Boston Globe that she could use the flaw to discover "when and where people bought such sensitive items as condoms and pregnancy test kits. 'CVS has got some very intimate information about their customers,' Albrecht said." CVS told the Globe that it has received no reports of data theft.

Low-Cost WiFi? In Manhattan?

That's what New York's Andrew Rasiej wants. Rasiej, Democratic candidate for the city's Public Advocate position, is expected to unveil his plan for citywide wireless Internet access at a press conference at City Hall today.

Rasiej, according to a statement released by his campaign, is the founder of MOUSE, a nonprofit organization that provides technology training to city students and teachers. He is also the founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, an online magazine focusing on technology and politics. He is challenging incumbent advocate Betsy Gotbaum (D).

It likely would be the most ambitious citywide wireless plan so far, topping Philadelphia's goal of outfitting more than 130 square miles of territory. It also could face opposition from Verizon and other top Internet service providers in New York. Philadelphia's plan prompted the ISPs to lean on Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) to sign a bill that would require the dominant local telecommunications provider to weigh in before local governments can offer Internet service.

Rasiej, according to New York Daily News columnist Errol Louis, is a big advocate of technology in a city whose electronic infrastructure needs some heavy updating: "One of the ugly little secrets of New York is that our town -- the financial and communications center of the planet -- is woefully behind the times when it comes to weaving new technology into the public life of our city. Thousands of us spend our workdays on state-of-the-art computer terminals and trading floors and our downtime on cell phones and iPods. Yet we put up with horse-and-buggy dysfunction by city and state agencies. ... Rasiej's tech-focused campaign may seem unusual, but it should be the norm: every one of the 95 (and counting) candidates running for city offices ought to be competing to show he knows how important it is to get the city wired, connected and efficient."

If you want to see more on this topic, check out a recent story I co-authored on wireless access as well as a column I prepared that looks at other municipal efforts around the nation.

Watergate Lock on Block

The lock that everyone's favorite team of "third-rate" burglars picked to get the Watergate scandal going is up for auction on the Internet. Bid4Assets Inc., a Silver Spring, Md.-based auctioneer, will try to get at least $100,000 for the lock that failed to guard Suite 600 at the Watergate Hotel. That, of course, was the home of the Democratic National Committee.

"The day after the break-in, the 'picked' lock was replaced by Locksmith James Rednowers, employed by the American Safe and Lock Company who subsequently put the lock in the back of his truck where it remained for several months. Eventually, Rednowers gave the lock, along with certification of its authenticity, to Jim Herrald, a building superintendent of the Watergate where the break-in happened," the company said in a press release. "The lock has since then changed owners -- and it is now for sale to the highest bidder. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire an exceptional and rare piece of Watergate history."

Bid4Assets didn't say who owns the lock at this time, and company officials were not immediately available for comment this morning. Do write in if you spot Gordon Liddy in a sleek, new ride.

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