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ACLU calls for Massachusetts moratorium on controversial license plate readers

ACLU – 12/14/2013

BOSTON — The ACLU of Massachusetts calls for a moratorium on the use of controversial and unregulated license plate scanner technology in all Massachusetts police departments, following a Boston Globe exposé of problems in the Boston Police Department’s program.

The story, published in today’s Globe, shows that contrary to officials’ claims about why departments need the technology, police routinely do not respond to live ‘hits’ alerting them to the location of stolen cars. This suggests that the program is, as the ACLU feared, largely oriented towards compiling vast databases enabling the warrantless tracking of millions of innocent motorists.

In response to these alarming findings, the Boston Police Department announced it would suspend the program, at least until proper oversight and procedures are put into place.

“The Globe’s investigation into the Boston Police Department’s license plate reader program, based largely on a series of public records requests initiated nearly a year ago, confirms that police departments need outside oversight and guidance in order to responsibly use this powerful technology. We applaud the Boston police decision to suspend the program,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty project at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “In light of these disturbing revelations, no police department in the state should continue to use this technology until the legislature passes the License Plate Privacy Act. We need uniform statewide rules for departments’ use of plate readers.”

Currently the Massachusetts State Police and more than 50 cities and towns deploy license plate scanners, which snap photographs of each license plate they encounter, noting the time, date and location, and run the plate numbers against “hot lists” to identify stolen cars, outstanding warrants and other violations. Today, no license plate reader program in the state is subject to outside regulation.

“The License Plate Privacy Act will establish accountability and public transparency requirements to ensure that the kinds of abuses the Globe uncovered at the Boston Police Department are not happening in other cities and towns,” said Crockford. “Technologies that target ordinary Americans going about their everyday lives create tremendous opportunity for abuse, without keeping us safe. We must ensure that the law keeps pace with these new technologies.”

The License Plate Privacy Act allows departments to use license plate readers to identify cars associated with criminal suspects or crimes, while preventing the government from amassing databases containing the historical travel records of millions of innocent people.

“The Globe’s investigation makes crystal clear that departments cannot police their own use of this complex and powerful tool,” said Crockford. “The legislature must step in to provide some basic rules, as well as checks and balances to make sure license plate readers aren’t used for warrantless tracking of innocent drivers. The Joint Transportation Committee should recommend swift approval of the License Plate Privacy Act, the legislature should pass it, and the Governor should sign it into law.”

Advanced surveillance tools can work to promote public safety while simultaneously respecting the privacy and liberty interests that help our Commonwealth thrive, but in order for that to happen the law needs to catch up with the technology. The License Plate Privacy Act strikes the right balance. Police departments statewide should follow Boston’s lead and immediately halt their use of the technology until the legislature acts.

For more on the License Plate Privacy Act, go to:
https://aclum.org/privacy_agenda#LPA

To take action on this issue, go to:
https://ssl.capwiz.com/aclu/ma/issues/alert/?alertid=63008551&type=ML

For more information about automatic license plate readers, go to:
https://www.aclu.org/alpr

December 14, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Australia Spies On its Own Citizens

The Australian security state is collecting intelligence on a scale never seen before

Through rapid technology advances the Australian security apparatus has grown to an Orwellian scale. This has not necessarily been at the design of any elected government but something the Australian bureaucracy was forthright in promoting.

The executive government has only superficial control over the Australian surveillance system. It is fully integrated with the NSA apparatus which immediately brings up an issue about sovereignty. This is not about a country’s sovereignty over land, but knowledge. The international exchange of security information is a challenge to human rights of Australian citizens that has to be grappled with.

Consequently, it is not in the interests of the Australian or US intelligence community for any public or even parliamentary discussion. The idea that the parliament and executive are in total control of government is a myth.

Through technology and its innovative applications, the concept of privacy has been reframed to the point of anything a person does outside of the home or on a computer is public domain, captured through any of the large array of assets that can be utilized for surveillance.

This has allowed the creation of a new premise that has grown up through the administrative arm of the Australian Government, one of compliance. Australia seems to have adopted an almost fanatical compliance culture where the administrators believe that they are the natural custodians of Australia’s security interests, over the temporarily elected politicians of the day.

Some of the methods the Australian security state utilizes for intelligence gathering, storing, and collation are well documented and summarized below:

  • The Australian Government database is a highly sophisticated group of electronic document and records management system(s) (EDRMS) for collating, storing, and matching data between various agencies and levels of governments. Consequently data collected by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), social security (Centrelink), Medicare, immigration, customs, and police enforcement agencies are integrated with relational databases and query systems. This is supplemented by individual agency databases with extremely detailed information on citizens. They carry an almost complete personal history of residential details going back decades, income, occupation, spouses, children, social security benefits, medical, and travel information, etc. These systems can be accessed by almost anybody within the public service. Every agency within the government has become part of the intelligence collection network.  According to academics Paul Henman and Greg Marston of the University of Queensland, these systems that enable agencies to determine client eligibility for services are highly intrusive and used with a prevailing deep suspicion of citizens in regards to their continuing eligibility for services.
  • The most recent revelations in the news about the ‘five eye’ countries eavesdropping on their citizens phone conversations, emails, and other electronic communications has been astounding. Through meta-data collection systems like PRISM and ECHELON are highly likely to be also operating within Australia due to the close relationship between the NSA and Australian intelligence community. According to AFP assistant commissioner Neil Gaughan, Australian intelligence has a much better relationship with the telecommunications companies than the US intelligence agencies. However, this doesn’t appear to be a new occurrence. A reliable source working within one of the Australian telephone companies when manual exchanges were operating confirmed that ASIO and state special branches had secret rooms within the exchanges to run phone tapping operations.
  • The NSW police are using an Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system which takes continuous snapshots of car number plates. This is supplemented by tracking cars when they go through tolls.
  • Law enforcement agencies have announced that they are preparing to utilize drones for crime surveillance in the not too distant future.
  • State and Federal Governments have been encouraging citizens to inform on other citizens they suspect of breaking the law. Government campaigns have been very successful in achieving all-time high numbers of informants in crime, social security, and taxation related matters.

The incredible power of the above described databases are exponentially enhanced when coupled with recent developments in cellular, RFID, internet, and other computer technologies. When private data in retail, banking, travel, health and insurance, etc., is linked to Intelligence collected by government, the value of data becomes massively enriched. Data collected by private organizations and utilized by security services include:

  • The internet domain is under constant surveillance. Companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter utilize tracking cookies to gather data on users. Australian security agencies employ private contractors like the National Open Source Intelligence Centre (NOSIC) to monitor, collate, and report on publically accessible information about individuals and organizations.
  • Many business organizations such as shopping centres and banks now utilize CCTV. These assets can be utilized by security organizations to track and monitor individuals. This is now being supplemented with media access control (MAC) systems which can track smartphones. This technology is already being used in three Westfield shopping centres.
  • Numerous private databases like electronic tenancy database which has detailed information. These include tenancy history, insurance company records that detail individuals insured assets, bank records, and university records. These can all be accessed by security agencies.
  • Mobile phones can be used as a means to track people through inbuilt GPS on smartphones, triangulation, or through electronic data-collectors designed to identify individual mobile phones in public places.
  • People’s purchase history and movements can be tracked through the use of credit, debit, and loyalty card purchases.

Emails, phones calls, places people go, and purchase history, in the context of other data collected has the latent potential to build up a profile on anybody. Data from social media like Facebook can enhance these profiles greatly by adding thought and behavior information. It’s the collection of small bits of information that can be collated into big pictures. Australian intelligence can retro-actively analyse anybody with the data they have access to.

Since 2007, when amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception & Access) Act 1974 were made during the last days of the Howard Government, government agencies have the power to search meta-data without the individual’s knowledge or any warrant.

CCTV cameras have been installed in many communities without the development of privacy policies on how they should be used. The law has yet to catch up with the ability to collect data.

Up until the 1980s most intelligence gathering was targeted monitoring of specific groups where ‘persons of interest’ were identified for intensive surveillance. ASIO and state special branches were videotaping activists primarily from the ‘left’. Surveillance was undertaken by ASIO and state special branches, where operatives used electronic means for eavesdropping, keeping index cards and files on ‘persons of interest’, recording mainly hearsay information.

Even then, red flags emerged. Peter Grabosky of the Australian Bureau of Criminology pointed out that ‘thought and discussion of public issues may be suppressed……and….excess use of (surveillance) may inhibit democratic and political freedom more subtly’. In addition, he believed that malicious accusations made from erroneous records produce false information which made innocent people suffer at the hands of the security agencies.

This problem can’t be corrected as these records are not assessable to be corrected for errors. The Mohamed Haneef arrest by the AFP in July 2007 where it was alleged he was connected with a terrorist cell in the UK, but later exonerated, hints at the security services being very territorial and ‘out of control’, where ASIO knew of Dr. Haneef’s innocence but didn’t advise the APF.

Faceless bureaucrats are the ones defining who were the enemies of the state. There appears to be a general inability to discriminate between healthy dissent in a political democracy and subversion.

Where no tangible threats existed to national security, lesser ones were perceived to be grave threats or even invented – remember “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

The rise of surveillance should not be understood as purely a technological development. It should be seen as a broader economic, social, and political paradigm shift within society where the balance of power has shifted away from the people and towards the state. There also appears to be a shift of power away from executive government towards an unelected bureaucracy. What makes this even more perplexing is that we don’t even know who these people really are.

The Sydney Morning Herald just ran a story that intelligence data was passed on to assist the mining giant BHP. Moreover, the human rights website WEBMOBILIZE alleges in a recent article that the Australian security apparatus is being used to steal intellectual property from companies and passing it over illegally to competitors. Some of the organizations that have been alleged to receive unlawfully gained IP include the University of Melbourne, Ageis Media, Telstra, Sensis, Deakin University, Belgravia Health and Business Group, Channel Nine, Nine Entertainment, Nine MSN, Corporate health management, Fairfax media, the Herald Sun, The Guardian, Nintendo, and the Australian Labor Party (ALP)and Liberal National Party (LNP).

There has been little in the way of public debate, nor much concern shown by the major political parties.

The powers to detain anyone under section 34D of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Act 1979 for up to seven days without the right to reveal their detention, resembles the mechanisms of a police state.

With an annual growth rate of more than 20% and budget of over $4 Billion p.a., ASIO has a new $500 Million building in Canberra and a secret data storage facility is being built at the HMAS Harman Naval Base, near Canberra, where details are except from public account committees. When other government programs are being cut, the deep philosophical question of why there is a need to continue the increase of funding for surveillance of the nation’s citizens requires national discussion.

Mass surveillance doesn’t seem to have much to do with terrorism as it has to do with keeping check on what people are doing. It seems to be more of an intimidating compliance mechanism, aimed at protecting public revenue, preventing and detecting crime, tax evasion, and fraud.

The rapid increase in staff within ASIO from 618 in 2000 to 1860 in 2010 has meant that the organization now primarily relies upon young and inexperienced analysts in their 20s and 30s. This means that Australia is at the mercy of a “Gen Y” culture that has grown up connected to the cyber world where a sense of privacy is very different to generations before them. Newly uncovered evidence suggests that ASIO has gone to great lengths to spy on people who have broken no laws.

Through Australia’s history Australian Security Agencies have blundered in the assessments they have made on many issues. The 2004 Flood report commenting on the “failure of intelligence” on Iraq stated that these weaknesses included “a failure to rigorously challenge preconceptions”, and the absence of a “consistent and rigorous culture of challenge to and engagement with intelligence reports”. Flood found an inconsistency in assessments and very shallow analytical abilities within the security agencies he examined. On many occasions, particularly during the Howard years, intelligence analysis was ‘bastardized” by political agenda. Those who criticized the political agenda ran the risk of being reframed from dissidents and classed as deviants who come under security surveillance.

The question here, can government with a long history of cover-ups be trusted?

The dream of a fair, just, and equitable Australian society where sovereignty is in the hands of its citizens may be one of the greatest myths. Australia’s surveillance on its own has eaten into and taken away many of the rights and liberties of Australians, turning society into one of mistrust.

This cannot be really satisfactorily answered relying only on public domain knowledge. We can only make guesses. However one undeniable fact is that there is presently a hidden and totally unaccountable part of government that is changing the nature of society. It is here where no media organizations are asking any questions.

We have entered into a new period of governance. We are now in an age of governance by surveillance of the masses by a few unknown elite and unaccountable people. Communist totalitarianism may have collapsed in Europe in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union, but the “free world’s” version of surveillance and intelligence would have made Stalin, Honecker, and Ceauşescu very jealous.

The lack of transparency is becoming indefensible. Without scrutiny the Australian security apparatus is the loose cannon of the Bureaucracy which will cause many reverberations like the destruction of peoples’ livelihoods through IP theft, or the ruining of peoples’ reputations through persecution.

There has never been a public mandate for the development of such an extensive surveillance program. Is the money being spent justified?

November 12, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Police Documents on License Plate Scanners Reveal Mass Tracking

By Catherine Crump | ACLU | July 17, 2013

Automatic license plate readers are the most widespread location tracking technology you’ve probably never heard of. Mounted on patrol cars or stationary objects like bridges, they snap photos of every passing car, recording their plate numbers, times, and locations. At first the captured plate data was used just to check against lists of cars law enforcement hoped to locate for various reasons (to act on arrest warrants, find stolen cars, etc.). But increasingly, all of this data is being fed into massive databases that contain the location information of many millions of innocent Americans stretching back for months or even years.

This is what we have found after analyzing more than 26,000 pages of documents from police departments in cities and towns across the country, obtained through freedom of information requests by ACLU affiliates in 38 states and Washington, D.C. As it becomes increasingly clear that ours is an era of mass surveillance facilitated by ever cheaper and more powerful computing technology (think about the NSA’s call logging program), it is critical we learn how this technology is being used. License plate readers are just one example of a disturbing phenomenon: the government is increasingly using new technology to collect information about all of us, all the time, and to store it forever – providing a complete record of our lives for it to access at will.

Today, we are releasing all of the documents we have received (accessible through this interactive map and this issue page) and are publishing a report, “You Are Being Tracked,” which explains what these documents say about license plate readers: what they are capable of, how they are being used, and what privacy harms they can cause if protections aren’t put in place. We’re also offering more than a dozen recommendations we think local police departments and state legislatures should follow when they pass laws about this technology.

As is often the case with surveillance technology, there are unobjectionable – even beneficial – uses of license plate readers. We don’t object when they’re used to identify people who are driving stolen cars or are subject to an arrest warrant. But they should not become tools for tracking where each of us has driven.

License plate readers capture vast amounts of data on innocent people

Because of the way the technology works – these devices snap photos of every passing car, not just those registered to people suspected of crimes – virtually all of the data license plate readers gather is about people who are completely innocent. Data that we obtained through our records requests illustrates this point vividly.

Why we should worry

Should the government be logging for months, years, or indefinitely the movements of the other 99 percent of people, who are innocent?

The answer to this question is no. License plate reader information can be very revealing. While one snapshot at one point might not seem sensitive, as blankets of plate readers cover our streets, and as the government stores data for longer and longer, the technology quickly morphs into a powerful tracking tool.

As computer technology and storage capacity get cheaper every year, we need to prepare for a future not just where there are a few license plate reader cameras in every town, but one in which there are multiple cameras on every block.

What can location data reveal about people? Trips to places of worship, political protests, or gun ranges can be powerful indicators of people’s beliefs. Is it really the government’s business how often you go to the drug store or liquor store, what doctors you visit, and the identities of your friends? I’m sure all of us can remember something from our past that could embarrass us. If the government comes to suspect you of something in 2020, should it have access to databases stretching back years that could dig up facts about you that previously went unnoticed?

What’s happening now

Law enforcement data-retention policies today are all over the map. While some police departments store data briefly, others keep it for a long time, or indefinitely.

The government doesn’t have a great track record of using this kind of information responsibly. As our report details, the data can be abused for official purposes, like spying on protesters merely because they are exercising their constitutionally protected right to petition the government, or unofficial ones, like tracking an ex-spouse.

Prior to the rise of powerful surveillance technology, it simply wasn’t possible to watch all of the people all of the time. But as these natural limits erode and the impossible becomes possible, we have to make conscious choices about how technology should be used.

What’s the right line with license plate readers?

There is a reasonable way to regulate this technology. The primary law enforcement use of these systems is to take pictures of plates to make it possible to check them against “hot lists” of cars of interest to law enforcement. This can be done virtually instantaneously. While plates that generate a “hit” may need to be stored for investigative purposes, there is no need to store plates for months or years to achieve this purpose.

That is to say, the answer to regulating license plate readers is to have strict limits on how long plate data can be retained. While we don’t recommend a specific cutoff date, we think it should be measured in days and weeks, not months and certainly not years.

To their credit, some law enforcement agencies already comply with this principle. For example, the Minnesota State Patrol deletes all data after 48 hours.

Others keep data for longer, and the rationale given is always the same: Although you can’t tell immediately that someone is committing a crime, some of those people may well be doing something wrong, goes the argument. But in our society, the government doesn’t watch all of us all the time just in case we commit a crime.

This is not just an issue we’ll have to decide in the context of license plate readers, but the most important surveillance issue of our time. Should the NSA collect all data about everyone’s calls, just in case it’s useful to identify a terrorist? Why stop there? Why not store all of the contents of the calls we make as well? And emails? This is not just about communications or public movements. It’s also about what happens inside the home. As electric companies convert to “smart grids” that provide them data about the patterns of your electricity usage, it could well become apparent when you take a shower and whether you run your dishwasher more frequently than others in your demographic profile. … Full article

July 17, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Automated License Plate Readers Threaten Our Privacy

By Jennifer Lynch and Peter Bibring | EFF | May 6, 2013

ALPR Camera on Top of Police CarLaw enforcement agencies are increasingly using sophisticated cameras, called “automated license plate readers” or ALPR, to scan and record the license plates of millions of cars across the country. These cameras, mounted on top of patrol cars and on city streets, can scan up to 1,800 license plate per minute, day or night, allowing one squad car to record more than 14,000 plates during the course of a single shift.

Photographing a single license plate one time on a public city street may not seem problematic, but when that data is put into a database, combined with other scans of that same plate on other city streets, and stored forever, it can become very revealing. Information about your location over time can show not only where you live and work, but your political and religious beliefs, your social and sexual habits, your visits to the doctor, and your associations with others. And, according to recent research reported in Nature, it’s possible to identify 95% of individuals with as few as four randomly selected geospatial datapoints (location + time), making location data the ultimate biometric identifier.

To better gauge the real threat to privacy posed by ALPR, EFF and the ACLU of Southern California asked LAPD and LASD for information on their systems, including their policies on retaining and sharing information and all the license plate data each department collected over the course of a single week in 2012. After both agencies refused to release most of the records we asked for, we sued. We hope to get access to this data, both to show just how much data the agencies are collecting and how revealing it can be.

ALPRs are often touted as an easy way to find stolen cars — the system checks a scanned plate against a database of stolen or wanted cars and can instantly identify a hit, allowing officers to set up a sting to recover the car and catch the thief.  But even when there’s no match in the database and no reason to think a car is stolen or involved in a crime, police keep the data. According to the LA Weekly, LAPD and LASD together already have collected more than 160 million “data points” (license plates plus time, date, and exact location) in the greater LA area—that’s more than 20 hits for each of the more than 7 million vehicles registered in L.A. County. That’s a ton of data, but it’s not all  — law enforcement officers also have access to private databases containing hundreds of millions of plates and their coordinates collected by “repo” men.

Law enforcement agencies claim that ALPR systems are no different from an officer recording license plate, time and location information by hand. They also argue the data doesn’t warrant any privacy protections because we drive our cars around in public. However, as five justices of the Supreme Court recognized last year in US v. Jones, a case involving GPS tracking, the ease of data collection and the low cost of data storage make technological surveillance solutions such as GPS or ALPR very different from techniques used in the past.

Police are open about their desire to record the movements of every car in case it might one day prove valuable.  In 2008, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck (then the agency’s chief of detectives) told GovTech Magazine that ALPRs have “unlimited potential” as an investigative tool.  “It’s always going to be great for the black-and-white to be driving down the street and find stolen cars rolling around . . . . But the real value comes from the long-term investigative uses of being able to track vehicles—where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing—and tie that to crimes that have occurred or that will occur.”  But amassing data on the movements of law-abiding residents poses a real threat to privacy, while the benefit to public safety is speculative, at best.

In light of privacy concerns, states including Maine, New Jersey, and Virginia have limited the use of ALPRs, and New Hampshire has banned them outright.  Even the International Association of Chiefs of Police has issued a report recognizing that “recording driving habits” could raise First Amendment concerns because cameras could record “vehicles parked at addiction-counseling meetings, doctors’ offices, health clinics, or even staging areas for political protests.”

But even if ALPRs are permitted, there are still common-sense limits that can allow the public safety benefits of ALPRs while preventing the wholesale tracking of every resident’s movements.  Police can and should treat location information from ALPRs like other sensitive information — they should retain it no longer than necessary to determine if it might be relevant to a crime, and should get a warrant to keep it any longer.  They should limit who can access it and who they can share it with.  And they should put oversight in place to ensure these limits are followed.

Unfortunately, efforts to impose reasonable limits on ALPR tracking in California have failed so far. Last year, legislation that would have limited private and law enforcement retention of ALPR data to 60 days—a limit currently in effect for the California Highway Patrol — and restricted sharing between law enforcement and private companies failed after vigorous opposition from law enforcement. In California, law enforcement agencies remain free to set their own policies on the use and retention of ALPR data, or to have no policy at all.

Some have asked why we would seek public disclosure of the actual license plate data collected by the police—location-based data that we think is private.  But we asked specifically for a narrow slice of data — just a week’s worth — to demonstrate how invasive the technology is.  Having the data will allow us to see how frequently some plates have been scanned; where and when, specifically, the cops are scanning plates; and just how many plates can be collected in a large metropolitan area over the course of a single week. Actual data will reveal whether ALPRs are deployed primarily in particular areas of Los Angeles and whether some communities might therefore be much more heavily tracked than others. If this data is too private to give a week’s worth to the public to help inform us how the technology is being used, then isn’t it too private to let the police amass years’ worth of data without a warrant?

After the Boston Marathon bombings, many have argued that the government should take advantage of surveillance technology to collect more data rather than less. But we should not so readily give up the very freedoms that terrorists seek to destroy. We should recognize just how revealing ALPR data is and not be afraid to push our police and legislators for sensible limits to protect our basic right to privacy.

Documents

EFF and ACLU-SC’s legal Complaint

LA Sheriff’s Department ALPR Powerpoint Presentation

LA Sheriff’s Department – Automated License Plate Reader System Information

LAPD – Automated License Plate Reader User Guide

LA Sheriff’s Department – Field Operations Directive

May 8, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

Police “Google Searches” Through Our Location History? No Thanks

By Kade Crockford | ACLU | October 16, 2012

Imagine a searchable database that would enable police or federal agents to instantly track everywhere you’ve ever driven in your car, like a “Google search” of your location over a period of months or even years. According to a law enforcement data manager speaking at a 2010 National Institute of Justice conference, that’s where the government is headed.

A driver location “Google search” is not available to police today because there aren’t enough license plate readers to ensure total information awareness about our driving habits. But if the federal government’s seed funding of the surveillance camera boom over the past ten years is any indication of where we are headed with license plate readers—and we have evidence to suggest a similar process is unfolding—we will get there soon enough.

The police are preparing for it, too. Dale Stockton, Program Manager of the “Road Runner” project at the Automated Regional Justice Information System in San Diego spoke on a panel on license readers at the 2010 conference and explained to police and prosecutors in attendance how best to share license plate data. Mind you, he was talking about the location information of people never accused of any crime.

Aware that a “centralized national giant bucket of license plate reader data…probably wouldn’t stand the court of public opinion,” he suggested a number of backdoor alternatives that would grant the government the same power to spy on us retroactively and with frightening precision. No such centralized data system exists and probably won’t, he said, but he described other paths towards total information awareness regarding license plate data, among them a “regional sharing capability” that in 2010 already existed in San Diego and L.A. Another option is informal data sharing between police departments, Stockton said, encouraging “anyone involved in LPR in the interim to establish an e-mail group and do an e-mail blast when you have a vehicle of interest. This is working in the southwest area of the United States,” he said.

But the regional data sharing and the informal e-mail systems Stockton described pale in comparison to the real endgame, what he called “something akin to a Google.” Not “a storage unit” per se—because remember, such a centralized database “wouldn’t stand the court of public opinion”—but a “pointer system” that would enable agencies to store their own data locally while making it readily available to police departments and federal agencies nationwide at the click of a button.

Central storage of data vs. distributed storage indexed via a pointer system? When it comes to privacy, that’s a distinction without a difference.

As license plate scanners proliferate nationwide, boring questions regarding data retention and sharing take on great importance. Unfortunately, it appears as if the government is taking us in precisely the wrong direction, from the top, down.

We’ve been making a lot of noise about location tracking of late. License plate readers rank high among the technologies that are threatening our privacy with respect to our travel patterns. Where we go says a lot about who we are, and law enforcement agencies nationwide are increasingly obtaining detailed information about where we go without any judicial oversight or reason to believe we are up to no good. Stockton says we have nothing to worry about with respect to license plate reader data and privacy, that that’s all “hocus pocus.” But he’s wrong.

We must ensure license plate readers do not become license plate trackers.

Law enforcement’s advancement of the position that agencies should be able to access data willy-nilly from other departments illustrates precisely why we’ve been worried about this technology. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to read such a position on the Department of Justice’s website; after all, it’s the same DOJ that told a court last week that Americans have “no privacy interest” in our location information as it pertains to our cellphones.

We disagree, and we intend to make sure that a license plate data system “akin to a Google” doesn’t take shape. Nothing less than our freedom on the open road is at stake.

October 16, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | 2 Comments