One Nation Under…Surveillance
Police agencies the nation over could be tracking you in your vehicle…for no reason whatsoever. In the New America, privacy has fallen by the wayside to make room for paranoia and anti-terrorism, and your daily actions are to be recorded. For entire decades, your daily actions can be known to the authorities, without probable cause and without a warrant. The price of such data collection has fallen dramatically as the private sector has taken notice to surveillance as a booming industry amid a decadent economy. The price of one gigabyte of storage, for instance, fell to $1.68 this year down from $18.95 just seven years ago, in 2005. That makes a 91% decline in price (it took the USD nearly a century to achieve such a feat!), according to market research firm IDC. Within a few years, such storage space will cost pennies. At the same time, the technology itself, the cameras, are improving markedly. A two-camera system (many vehicles sport four to six camera systems) costs $15,000 currently, down from $25,000 originally. As of 2010, 37% of large police departments were utilizing the plate readers.
“It’s one of the most rapidly diffusing technologies that I’ve ever seen,” says Cynthia Lum, a professor at George Mason University and former police officer and deputy director of the Center for Evidence-based Crime Policy.
According to WSJ, the police in San Leandro, Ca. have been photographing almost weekly Mike Katz-Lacabe’s Toyota Tercel for nearly two years. From driving, at the coffeeshop, to spending time with his daughters, the police photographed him and his family. Uncharged, unsuspected of any crime, local police have tracked his vehicle automatically, using cameras mounted on a patrol car that record every nearby vehicle, license plate, time and location. Katz-Lacabe, naturally, wants answers.
“Why are they keeping all this data?” he asked. He obtained the photos of his car through a public-records request. “I’ve done nothing wrong.” Historically, it had been to expensive for police to the track the locations of innocent people such as Mr. Katz-Lacabe, but as surveillance technologies have declined in cost and become more sophisticated, police departments are rapidly taking advantage so that they can collect myriads of images of innocent people across the country. Moral hazard aside, private companies are joining in the voyeuristic, perverse fun as well. Two start-up companies, both founded by “repo men” – who specialize in requisitioning cars or property from defaulted borrowers or “deadbeats” as WSJ calls them – currently deploy camera-equipped cars nationwide to photograph people’s license plates. Repo men contribute their data to a private, nationwide database. Such databases, which contain hundreds of millions of plates, could quickly become the largest collection of data and the movement of people in the US.
There is a definitive rise in license-plate tracking occurring in the US. This case study in how storing and studying the everyday activities of innocent people is becoming the norm. Cellphone-location data, online searches, credit-card purchases, social-network comments and more are being compiled, mixed-and-matched, and stored in vast nano-technology driven databases – a virtual avatar of yourself.
Everyday, data about innocent US citizens is collected in more than 20 different ways, according to a WSJ analysis. Just fifteen years ago, in 1998, more than half of the contemporary modes of surveillance were not available or were too expensive to deploy, says Col. Lisa Shay, a professor of electrical engineering at the US Military Academy at West Point who studies surveillance.
“What would 1950s Soviet Union have done with the technology we have now?” says Col. Shay. “We don’t have a police state in this country, but we have the technology.”
Not a police state. Colonel Shay ought to get here eyes and powers of reasoning checked. Because this is beginning to look more like a 1930s Soviet Union. With the power of the state today, we can only hope for the thawed out 1950s version of the Soviet Union. Law enforcement agents, caught daily in police brutality cases their departments oftentimes do not investigage, maintain they use this information only to catch bad guys.
In just the last five years, since around the time of the banking collapse, the US Department of Homeland Security has distributed more than $50 million in federal grants to law-enforcement agencies, from the biggest metropolitan areas in the country to the most rural communities, for automated license-plate recognition systems. In 2010, a survey showed that more than one-third of large US police agencies are utilizing automated plate-reading systems. There is a lot of information captured via the technology. WSJ received two years- worth of plate information from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in California. From September 10, 2010 to August 27, 2012, the sheriff’s cameras captured 6 million license plates scans. The sheriff’s deployed 49 camera-ready vehicles, and scanned approximately 2 million unique plates. The average plate in the database was scanned three times over the two-year period. Less than 1% of plates were tracked extensively – hundreds of times, and occasionally thousands.
The UN’s International Association of Chiefs of Police, which unites all police in the pursuit of force and violence, warns that “recording driving habits” could raise First Amendment concerns (not to mention 4th Amendment). The plate readers, according to the International Association, record “vehicles parked at addiction-counseling meetings, doctors’ offices, health clinics, or even staging areas for political protests.” The association has suggested agencies establish “more specific criteria for granting access” to the information and to designate it only for “official use,” instead of respecting the privacy of once-citizens, now civilians.
The license-plate databases are filled with information about the location of individuals, and police can obtain it without a judge’s approval. Prosecutors, for contrast, generally need a court order to install GPS trackers on people’s cars or to track people’s locations via cellphone.
Some states have implemented guidelines for their use, while others, like New Hampshire, have banned them. Maine requires data to be purged after 21 days unless it is part of investigation, but surely this data can be stored out of state. Riverside country, home to 2.2 million people, has been using the data since 2007, and plans to keep the records indefinitely.
In California this year, State Senator Joe Simitian introduced legislation to limit retention of automatic plate-recognition records by private contracts to 60 days and require that officers have a warrant to access the data. He argued the police must have probable cause to get information about the location of people’s cars. He asks: “Should a cop who thinks you’re cute have access to your daily movements for the past 10 years without your knowledge or consent?” Naturally, in their sick and twisted sociopathic fucked-up heads, private companies and law-enforcement agencies opposed the bill, saying it would create an “overwhelming burden” on police departments and would cut into revenue from unpaid parking tickets. Simitian eventually abandoned his legislation, and the perverts won.