It is amazing what private enterprise can do. A profit-seeking company in California has compiled over half a billion license plate records. These include information on criminal convictions.
It rents this information to police departments.
Couple this with video scanners that monitor each vehicle, and you have the makings of a police state.
The courts cannot keep up with the new technologies. “The U.S. Supreme Court is only now addressing whether investigators can secretly attach a GPS monitoring device to cars without a warrant.”
A ruling in that case has yet to be handed down, but a telling exchange occurred during oral arguments. Chief Justice John Roberts asked lawyers for the government if even he and other members of the court could feasibly be tracked by GPS without a warrant. Yes, came the answer.
Here is step 2.
Meanwhile, police around the country have been affixing high-tech scanners to the exterior of their patrol cars, snapping a picture of every passing license plate and automatically comparing them to databases of outstanding warrants, stolen cars and wanted bank robbers.
The units work by sounding an in-car alert if the scanner comes across a license plate of interest to police, whereas before, patrol officers generally needed some reason to take an interest in the vehicle, like a traffic violation.
But when a license plate is scanned, the driver’s geographic location is also recorded and saved, along with the date and time, each of which amounts to a record or data point. Such data collection occurs regardless of whether the driver is a wanted criminal, and the vast majority are not.
It gets better . . . or worse.
A West Coast sales manager for the company, Randy Robinson, said the scanners — as well as data from them compiled in the location system — do far more than simply help identify stolen vehicles. Stories abound of the technology also being used by police to stop wanted killers, bank robbers and drug suspects. Kidnappers could be intercepted, too.
“I just sit back and think, ‘Who would want to thwart officers from doing their jobs more effectively, faster, more efficiently?’ If it was your son or daughter (missing), what would you say?”
Robinson isn’t troubled by the thought of his own data being compiled, and he said others shouldn’t worry either if they haven’t violated the law. After all, he said, police could even track him down if necessary. He also pointed out that there’s nothing wrong with Vigilant taking what amounts to public photographs.
But wait! There’s more!
Just one patrol officer can log information for thousands of cars in a single shift. Multiply that by an ever-growing number of police departments adopting the technology — often with help from homeland security grants and funds from President Barack Obama’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — and the result is an extraordinary volume of data on motorists.
With enough scans, a portrait of your habits begins to emerge, making it a valuable intelligence tool police can use to determine where and when cars were scanned.
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