Every move you make

Every step you take, someone’s watching you:

One morning last week, 38-year-old software developer Phil Mocek was walking to work in Seattle when he paused to photograph what appeared to be civilian vehicles parked in a restricted area near a downtown federal building. He snapped a few pictures and began walking away, when a white truck whipped out of one of the parking spots and pulled up perpendicular to the curb. A large man wearing jeans and a gray T-shirt emerged from the cab and angrily grabbed the camera from Mocek, who hollered for help and fumbled with his phone to dial 911.

Police quickly arrived on the scene, responding to Mocek’s report of a possible robbery. The black male suspect identified himself as an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and told the officers that he was concerned about Mocek posting images of his vehicle online due to the nature of his job. The ATF agent explained that he had confiscated the camera and examined its contents because he “wanted to delete the picture that was taken of him.” Nobody was arrested.

For Mocek, the encounter was both unsettling and absurd. A gadfly for government transparency and police accountability, he has a history of prodding law enforcement to the point of exasperation. He says he was taking the pictures for an ongoing project that aims to raise awareness about law enforcement tracking vehicles on U.S. city streets and highways. The fact that a federal agent was concerned about Mocek violating his privacy rights would have been laughable if it weren’t so frightening.