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Flaherty reports: "Chances are, your local or state police departments have photographs of your car in their files, noting where you were driving on a particular day, even if you never did anything wrong."

Surveillance cameras are only one part of the growing collection of surveillance technology being implemented in the US. (photo: Kodda/Shutterstock.com)
Surveillance cameras are only one part of the growing collection of surveillance technology being implemented in the US. (photo: Kodda/Shutterstock.com)



Driving Somewhere? There's a Gov't Record of That

By Anne Flaherty, Associated Press

17 July 13

 

hances are, your local or state police departments have photographs of your car in their files, noting where you were driving on a particular day, even if you never did anything wrong.

Using automated scanners, law enforcement agencies across the country have amassed millions of digital records on the location and movement of every vehicle with a license plate, according to a study published Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. Affixed to police cars, bridges or buildings, the scanners capture images of passing or parked vehicles and note their location, uploading that information into police databases. Departments keep the records for weeks or years, sometimes indefinitely.

As the technology becomes cheaper and more ubiquitous, and federal grants focus on aiding local terrorist detection, even small police agencies are able to deploy more sophisticated surveillance systems. While the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that a judge's approval is needed to track a car with GPS, networks of plate scanners allow police effectively to track a driver's location, sometimes several times every day, with few legal restrictions. The ACLU says the scanners assemble what it calls a "single, high-resolution image of our lives."

"There's just a fundamental question of whether we're going to live in a society where these dragnet surveillance systems become routine," said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU. The civil rights group is proposing that police departments immediately delete any records of cars not linked to a crime.

Law enforcement officials said the scanners can be crucial to tracking suspicious cars, aiding drug busts and finding abducted children. License plate scanners also can be efficient. The state of Maryland told the ACLU that troopers could "maintain a normal patrol stance" while capturing up to 7,000 license plate images in a single eight hour shift.

"At a time of fiscal and budget constraints, we need better assistance for law enforcement," said Harvey Eisenberg, chief of the national security section and assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland.

Law enforcement officials also point out that the technology is legal in most cases, automating a practice that's been done for years. The ACLU found that only five states have laws governing license plate readers. New Hampshire, for example, bans the technology except in narrow circumstances, while Maine and Arkansas limit how long plate information can be stored.

"There's no expectation of privacy" for a vehicle driving on a public road or parked in a public place, said Lt. Bill Hedgpeth, a spokesman for the Mesquite Police Department in Texas, which has records stretching back to 2008, although the city plans next month to begin deleting files older than two years. "It's just a vehicle. It's just a license plate."

In Yonkers, N.Y., just north of the Bronx, police said retaining the information indefinitely helps detectives solve future crimes. In a statement, the department said it uses license plate readers as a "reactive investigative tool" that is only accessed if detectives are looking for a particular vehicle in connection to a crime.

"These plate readers are not intended nor used to follow the movements of members of the public," the department's statement said.

But even if law enforcement officials say they don't want a public location tracking system, the records add up quickly. In Jersey City, N.J., for example, the population is only 250,000 but the city collected more than 2 million plate images on file. Because the city keeps records for five years, the ACLU estimates that it has some 10 million on file, making it possible for police to plot the movements of most residents depending upon the number and location of the scanners, according to the ACLU.

The ACLU study, based on 26,000 pages of responses from 293 police departments and state agencies across the country, also found that license plate scanners produced a small fraction of "hits," or alerts to police that a suspicious vehicle has been found. In Maryland, for example, the state reported reading about 29 million plates between January and May of last year. Of that amount, about 60,000 - or roughly 1 in every 500 license plates - were suspicious. The No. 1 crime? A suspended or revoked registration, or a violation of the state's emissions inspection program accounted for 97 percent of all alerts.

Eisenberg, the assistant U.S. attorney, said the numbers "fail to show the real qualitative assistance to public safety and law enforcement." He points to the 132 wanted suspects the program helped track. They were a small fraction of the 29 million plates read, but he said tracking those suspects can be critical to keeping an area safe.

Also, he said, Maryland has rules in place restricting access for criminal investigations only. Most records are retained for one year in Maryland, and the state's privacy policies are reviewed by an independent board, Eisenberg noted.

At least in Maryland, "there are checks, and there are balances," he said.

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-1 # futhark 2013-07-17 18:17
Well, you could have voted for Ron Paul, as Edward Snowden apparently did, instead of for the primary advocate of the state surveillance apparatus and promoter of the PATRIOT Act and NDAA, Barack H. Obama. Dr. Paul has been a tireless critic of government intrusion into the private lives of citizens and military action in foreign countries. OK, so he was against government involvement in funding medical care for citizens. I fault him on that, too, but has Mr. Obama delivered on his 2008 campaign promises on that issue?
 
 
+5 # Nominae 2013-07-18 16:58
Quoting futhark:
Well, you could have voted for Ron Paul,


First of all, "Woulda-Coulda- Shoulda" is not an adult argument.

Second "Dr." Paul, whatever his stances, is one seriously unbalanced individual.

This is not and "endorsement" for Obama, it is simply an observation that you are presenting invalid logic with the above.
 
 
+7 # m... 2013-07-17 22:56
I feel very sure that as we work, eat, sleep and couch-potato, there are big companies out there sending their legions of cash-laden lobbyists into the 24/7 open-for-cash doors of Washington and showering our so-called 'Representative s' with all the reasons all Americans and persons in America should be wearing GPS ankle bracelets at all times... for their 'own safety'... and the 'safety' of our beloved Democratic Republic.

You see, Its all about the Glory and Patriotism of PRIVATIZATION and the apparent extreme Corporate Paranoia that now goes with being plugged into so much wealth and power and any fears they might have of losing such connections.

So, maybe Privatization has gone so far into the Looking Glass that now, they not only have to keep thinking up ideas for more and more 'PRIVATIZATION' Contracts, they also have to think up how to keep MANY watchful eyes on a society of people that, although well hoodwinked, deluded and still thinking they live in a Representative Democracy of, by and for the People as of now, they probably also figure they have to watch out which citizens might actually be 'waking up' to reality so they can figure out what to do about it and how to put people back into the stupor it seems we've generally fallen into.. or worse.

They've developed a fragile greedy ecosystem for themselves-- How to keep consumers consuming while stealing EVERYTHING from them in the meantime... Lest it all fall apart.
 
 
+2 # wwway 2013-07-18 07:56
#m... I believe you have it right. I would support your comment by adding that the Supremem Court has sided with corporations twice in the last 100 + years resulting in government by and for the corporations.
To be sure, Americnas don't seem to mind that corporations gather information about them and use it to target them with specific appeals and offers. Citizns don't seem to mind cameras at intersections to catch red light violators or that cameras recorded the Boston Bombers. Those who can afford it survalance their own homes and monitor them from their smart phones. The question is this.
How much privacy are you willing to give up for a sense of safety and justice?
I wish a camera had been able to tell Travon Martin's story.
 
 
+1 # RMDC 2013-07-18 09:49
This is the downside of technology. It enables the worst of people to do their worst. the people who run the US police state think they need to watch every human on earth all the time. In that way, they think there will be peace and social stability. They are sociopaths. They hate the freedom and independence of human beings.

There is nothing anyone or any group can do to oppose them. I see the cameras everywhere I drive. What can I do? Nothing.

Maybe when the US empire collapses, we will get political leaders who simply refuse to surveil people in this way. They will refuse to collect data on people and refuse build profiles on everyone on earth. That's a big dream but it is what the world needs.
 
 
+3 # curmudgeon 2013-07-18 13:50
Does anyone know of a substance (or willing to invent one) that can be sprayed on license plates - both preventing photographs osf same, yet allowing plate to be visul to naked eye?

In other words - a clear substance that will not allow photgraphy but still allow sight of info(legal requirement)
 
 
+1 # m... 2013-07-18 18:46
vampire blood...????

;-)
 
 
+1 # Nominae 2013-07-18 17:03
Suddenly I see a true upside to the fact that the States of Arizona and New Mexico save money by issuing only one plate per vehicle - to be mounted on the rear.

Not that it makes anything foolproof, but, you know, it *can* get pretty muddy down here in the dusty desert ! ;-)
 

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