Big Brother Is Watching – This Time License Plates

A couple of years ago the Supreme Court ruled that the government needed a warrant to attach a GPS to a suspect’s vehicle.

So the police had to come up with a different plan.  Enter plan B.

Vigilant Corporation, a private entity, has thousands of cameras in cities around the country.  They have taken an estimated 2 billion pictures and adding 80 million a month – each with a date, time and geolocation stamp.  And they keep these pictures forever.  No law says that they can’t.  And, since these pictures are taken in public, you don’t, according to the courts, have any expectation of privacy.

These pictures are of license plates – at least right now that is what they are taking pictures of.  But next year it could be faces or the people you are talking to.

Taking this data and correlating it would allow someone to know where you go, when and even how often.

And, gee, the data is for sale.  Among their customers are 3,000 law enforcement agencies.

Let’s say the NYPD, which has its own license plate database, wanted to see where else this “suspicious” license plate showed up.  No need for a warrant or even any police work.  Log on to Vigilant’s database, enter a query and it will show you every time they saw that license plate – anywhere in the country that they have a camera.

And they don’t just sell the data to the cops.  The bank might be interested in where you drive your car in deciding whether to give you a car loan.  The insurance company might use that data to decide if they want to insure you – or at what price.

Hate groups or politicians might want to buy the data to see where a person that is causing them trouble goes – say a church or a particular doctor or an AA meeting.

In Texas, they are using it to turn police cars into ATM machines for the cities.  The police car has a license plate reader or LPR on it.  They read your plate and look to see if you owe the city money – say for court fines or fees.  The cop pulls you over and says that you can either give him your credit card or go to jail and discuss that outstanding fine with the judge.  Cha-Ching!

A logical extension would be for private debt collectors to subcontract their debt collection activities to the cops – for a cut of the debt.

Technology is wonderful, but also scary.

There are some very interesting uses that might come up.

Special interest groups might want to track where politicians spend their recreational time.

The police might want to see who reporters confidential sources are.

There really is no end of the possible uses for license plate readers.

You might want to carry a credit card with you – JUST IN CASE.

Just sayin.


Information for this post came from The Atlantic and eWeek.

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