Monday, September 03, 2007

No ID, No Freedoms?

A writer/blogger details an event that led to his arrest outside a Circuit City in Ohio for refusing to show a rather rude employee his receipt and for refusing to show a policeman an ID. The post was featured here at Boing Boing and both the post and the many comments which follow it are fascinating reads and raise many questions. (Yes, Boing Boing has updated and is allowing comments on posts.) The story has been also featured on Digg, Fark and other sites also with much debate.

In the blogger's version of events his rights and liberties were trashed by business and government alike - if the events follow his account. He was asked to show a receipt on the way out of the store and refused and continued on to his car. When store manager Joe stood so the car door could not be closed, here's what was said:

"Me: “Is there a problem?”

Joe: “I need to examine your bag and receipt before letting you leave this parking lot.”

Me: “I paid for the contents in this bag. Are you accusing me of stealing?”

Joe: “I’m not accusing you of anything, but I’m allowed by law to look through your bag when you leave.”

Me: “Which law states that? Name the law that gives you the right to examine my bag when I leave a Circuit City.”

Then, says, the blogger:

"I twice asked Joe to back away from the car so that I could close the door. Joe refused. On three occasions I tried to pull the door closed but Joe pushed back on the door with his hip and hands. I then gave Joe three options:

“Accuse me of shoplifting and call the police. I will gladly wait for them to arrive.”
“Back away from the car so that I can close the door and drive away.”
“If you refuse to let me leave I will be forced to call the police.”

However, after he did call the police, the officer then challenged him and demanded to see his driver's license - even though he was not driving a vehicle and was instead standing on the sidewalk. When he refused, he was arrested, even though the store officials examined his belongings and admitted he had a receipt for all purchases.

Some will say the blogger, Michael Righi, invited trouble for refusing to comply with the store employee. And more trouble was invited by not showing the policeman an ID. The comments on Boing Boing alone bring up central and related issues that are worthy of debate.

And as I said, since I think Righi is telling the truth, I also agree his freedoms were needlessly challenged and curtailed. The events also highlight the problematic issue that corporations, like Circuit City, are identified as having the same rights as an individual. That fact most often means the rights of the corporation will trump the honest-to-God human's rights every time.

And as we continue on the current legal path where National IDs, under provisions of the Real ID Act, are going to be mandatory each of us will likely be faced with demands that we provide papers to engage in a host of routine activities.

Such requirements are more than lunacy. It's a perversion of our basic freedoms to be required to have papers to simply exist. Righi was not engaged in some unique activity which requires a license - such as fishing or hunting or operating a business.

More and more we have become a society where each of us is perceived as guilty, each of us is a criminal-in-waiting, each of us is forced to agree our rights are subservient to that of our own government and to the needs of business. Dismissing this story and it's implications is perilous for all.
(image from the Hartford Courant, Oct. 30, 2001)

UPDATE (9/5/07): R. Neal at KnoxViews featured this post and thoughtfully added in the comments the law in TN regarding what a merchant has legal rights to do if they think a person might have taken something without paying.

Also worth noting is that Righi was charged with obstructing a police officer, even though Righi is the one who called the police.

Glad to see this story is getting some discussion and thoughtful review in numerous blogs. The willingness to abandon individual rights is a repulsive trend which endangers us all.


  1. That, my friend is abuse of power, plain and simple.

  2. There was a Supreme Court ruling from 2004, HIIBEL v. SIXTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT OF
    , that declared that you could not refuse to provide identification to a police officer.

    I don't like it, but that's the law.

    Michael Righi had the right to refuse to show his receipt. He could not, under existing law, refuse to provide identification.

    As others have stated, if he was that pissed off, he should have gone back in the store, returned the item, and gotten his money back. Then he could have informed the manager that he would never receive another dollar's worth of business, and that the news of his treatment would be spread far and wide via the internet.

    Standing on principle is one thing. It is possible to carry it too far out of ignorance.

  3. Anonymous11:15 AM

    I'm not sure that the case law supports the officer in this instance. It states:

    "...the Court has recognized that an officer’s reasonable suspicion that a person may be involved in criminal activity permits the officer to stop the person for a brief time and take additional steps to investigate further..."

    Exactly WHAT "reasonable suspicion" was engendered by the police being called by the "suspect"? Failure to show a receipt to a store owner is now "reasonable suspicion"?

    This is not a slippery slope, this is the bottom of the hill.

  4. Anonymous11:30 AM

    I've just visited Righi's blog, and found this update:

    "September 1st, 2007 @11:34PM EST Update:I found the detail on Ohio’s “stop and identify” law. I encourage you to read it in its entirety, but I will spell out the important part:

    2921.29 (C) Nothing in this section requires a person to answer any questions beyond that person’s name, address, or date of birth. Nothing in this section authorizes a law enforcement officer to arrest a person for not providing any information beyond that person’s name, address, or date of birth or for refusing to describe the offense observed."

    He was COMPLETELY within the law (at least, Ohio's law) by refusing to provide any further information beyond what he offered.