In the past year, there has been a rapid rise in how the government intends on tracking every movement you make, whether it’s online or outside in the general public. Many do not know, or understand, just how much tracking is done to individuals. It’s increasing and it may already be too late to stop it.
CCTV and license plate trackers are now commonplace in many cities in the United States. Most are unregulated and they collect millions of license plates every year, storing them in databases that can track and analyze a car’s movements over time.
The scanners can read 60 license plates per second, then match observed plates against a “hot list” of wanted vehicles, stolen cars, or criminal suspects. LPRs have increasingly become a mainstay of law enforcement nationwide; many agencies tout them as a highly effective “force multiplier” for catching bad guys, most notably burglars, car thieves, child molesters, kidnappers, terrorists, and—potentially—undocumented immigrants.
Today, tens of thousands of LPRs are being used by law enforcement agencies all over the country—practically every week, local media around the country report on some LPR expansion. But the system’s unchecked and largely unmonitored use raises significant privacy concerns. License plates, dates, times, and locations of all cars seen are kept in law enforcement databases for months or even years at a time. In the worst case, the New York State Police keeps all of its LPR data indefinitely. No universal standard governs how long data can or should be retained.
Because there are no national standards, each state, or city, has seen to it that they determine when, or if, those records will ever be erased. Although the Supreme Court has said that you cannot track a car with GPS without a warrant, it’s perfectly fine to do so with other methods. The Sixth District Court has now added that tracking your cell phone is not a violation of your fourth amendment rights and the police are free to track you anytime they want via your cell phone.
The Sixth Circuit’s Fourth Amendment analysis is disturbing right from the outset. “If a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location,” the argument begins, “certainly the police can track that signal. The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools.” This is bizarre and circular: It suggests that criminals categorically lack Fourth Amendment privacy interests in any “tool” they use to conduct criminal activity, in which case no search would violate the Fourth Amendment if it actually turned up evidence of criminal conduct. But the whole point of requiring a warrant is to let a neutral magistrate determine whether there’s probable cause to believe such conduct will be uncovered. The court hastily acknowledges this in a footnote, clarifying that there’s no expectation of privacy for anyone in cell phone GPS data, but beginning in this way suggests the court is reasoning backwards to a desired conclusion, based on Skinner’s now-established guilt.
And if you want to know how wrong this case is, you really need to read the analysis from the Cato Institute.
If you’re in a major city, such as New York City, there’s even more reason to worry about being tracked.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to unveil a major new police surveillance infrastructure, developed by Microsoft. The Domain Awareness System links existing police databases with live video feeds, including cameras using vehicle license plate recognition software. No mention was made of whether the system plans to use – or already uses – facial recognition software. But, at present, there is no law to prevent US government and law enforcement agencies from building facial recognition databases.
From Disneyland to the military, you are being tracked everywhere you go. The biggest online threat, it seems, would be from Facebook. In the past year, Facebook has been pushing facial recognition technology on its users, touting the benefits while minimizing or omitting any privacy concerns users may have.
According to Homeland Security Newswire, billions of dollars are being invested in the development and manufacture of various biometric technologies capable of detecting and identifying anyone, anywhere in the world – via iris-scanning systems, already in use; foot-scanning technology (really); voice pattern ID software, and so on.
Combine all of this technology together and you get TrapWire, a program that the government has tried very hard to keep under wraps. Citizens are told that all these technologies are designed to prevent terrorism, but they are truly there to keep the people in line and under government control. With laws such as the NDAA, if you speak up too much, you can be silenced quite easily. Unfortunately, at the moment, the people don’t care enough to do anything about the ubiquitous surveillance state that we are succumbing to. They are too full of hate and fear to think that anything the government could be doing might be wrong and, instead, believe that the government is honestly doing this for our own good to protect us.
All of these technologies have the potential to be abused and likely will be. It’s human nature to do so. They are also being used as a blanket approach to tracking everyone with the idea that, some time in the future, the information will be useful in solving a crime. As Americans, we used to be accorded the ability to walk down the street and not be tracked wherever we went. This gave us reasonable amounts of privacy. If we weren’t suspects, no one was keeping tabs on us. Now, law enforcement, from the local police to the FBI, target everyone. They no longer care if you are innocent or guilty. They just want the data because, sooner or later, they believe everyone will do something wrong and then they can check their massive databases to find out exactly what other “crimes” you’ve committed and where you’ve been.
If you want to help and push back the looming surveillance state, put your support behind these two bills.