A year ago, the Department of Homeland Security began a new initiative to track license plates nationwide. Luckily it was abandoned due to overwhelming opposition over privacy concerns.
Organizations such as the ACLU warned that license plate databases could be used to track the locations of all American drivers, criminal and non-criminal.
The ACLU even released a report—“You Are Being Tracked”—which detailed the issues with several localities that allow license plate readers. Authorities can keep tabs on people’s movements with little regard for privacy. (I highly recommend reading the report and viewing the slideshow on the ACLU’s website concerning the use of this technology.)
Now the Washington Post reports that DHS has renewed its interest in adopting such a nationwide program and is seeking bids from private companies to implement it. However, according to DHS, they are taking precautionary measures to ensure that privacy rights and civil liberties will not be violated:
“These restrictions will provide essential privacy and civil liberty protections, while enhancing our agents’ and officers’ ability to locate and apprehend suspects who could pose a threat to national security and public safety,” DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron said in a statement. The solicitation was posted publicly Thursday.
A year ago, the ACLU warned that last year’s “victory” in stopping the bids was not so much a victory as a minor delay in implementation. The group said the database DHS wants already exists:
There was never a plan to “build” a plate database. A database almost exactly like the one DHS describes is a current fact. It is operated by a private corporation called Vigilant Solutions, contains nearly two billion records of our movements, and grows by nearly 100 million records per month. As I explain in greater detail here, DHS likely just wanted broader access to tap it.
Privacy advocates are skeptical of DHS’ “reassurances” over privacy, according to the Washington Post:
“If this goes forward, DHS will have warrantless access to location information going back at least five years about virtually every adult driver in the U.S., and sometimes to their image as well,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology.
Can we blame them after all the times we were “reassured” by the NSA that massive data collection of our Internet activities and phone calls was not happening? There is also the constitutionality of such programs to consider.
Judge Andrew Napolitano has called the use of these license plate trackers solidly “unconstitutional” on Fox News’ Happening Now:
“Law enforcement is not allowed to use its powers for no reason, or on a hunch, or a whim. It has to have a reason that they can articulate as to who did what wrong before they can start investigating,” he added.
As a means to track illegal immigrants, Napolitano said the plan “isn’t efficient.” He explained the government must answer, “Why are you investigating?” because he said, “You can’t just investigate anybody you want.”
In an era when the government can monitor you via the metadata collected by the NSA, street cameras on every corner, and microphones in cities nationwide, it’s hard to put a finger on just how much privacy we really have left in the United States.
At what point do we abandon the assumption of privacy and accept that we live in what can only be called a mass surveillance state?