The paperback-size device, installed on the outside of police cars, can log thousands of license plates in an eight-hour patrol shift. Katz-Lacabe said it had photographed his two cars on 112 occasions, including one image from 2009 that shows him and his daughters stepping out of his Toyota Prius in their driveway… At a rapid pace, and mostly hidden from the public, police agencies throughout California have been collecting millions of records on drivers and feeding them to intelligence fusion centers operated by local, state and federal law enforcement.
Intelligence fusion centers?
If you care at all about having any privacy whatsoever from a government that has repeatedly demonstrated an unquenchable thirst for your personal information, I strongly recommend you take a moment to read CIR’s piece on motorist surveillance. It contains too many chilling and repugnant facts and quotes to reprint here. The bottom line is that police have stepped-up their automated surveillance of law-abiding citizens to the point where it is possible for them to reconstruct peoples’ lives by looking at their records. The funds to undertake this surveillance and store it in expensive server rooms appears to be limitless — even as cities like Oakland have a 13,000-case backlog facing the single officer tasked with investigating burglaries.
In California and across the country, the response given to victims of crime is increasingly “We don’t care”, “Call your insurance company”, or “Just go to the hospital”. They can threaten a teenager with a year in jail for wearing a particular shirt but they don’t have the time to respond to stolen vehicle or burglary calls. Increasingly, the police have found that it is easier, more expedient, and safer to simply lean on regular citizens for minor violations than it is to respond to, or prevent, violent crime.
There are legitimate benefits to wide-scale plate reading. If properly anonymised, the data could revolutionize the science of traffic management and urban planning. Imagine being able to plug 100 million “trips” into a computer and immediately see which roads are under and over utilized at every time of the day. There are real and useful things that can happen when the data is handled properly. But the way it’s currently being handled is anything but proper, and with the increasing number of public-private partnerships in California, it’s not beyond the scope of reason to suggest that eventually it will be possible to purchase travel records for a particular license plate.
In a perfect world, Something Would Be Done about this — but in a country where everybody’s already stopped worrying about the NSA’s documented surveillance of American citizens, who’s going to bother fighting back against license-plate readers? The answer is likely to be “nobody at all”. But if anyone does take it up as a cause, expect to see them marginalized as “teatards” or “Occupy freaks” posthaste. After all, if you’re obeying the law, you have nothing to fear from increased surveillance. Keep telling yourself that.