Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Obama Administration: DHS Proposal for National License Plate Tracking

If you're like millions of other people, you probably woke up this morning, had breakfast, and performed the usual toiletries that clean, psychologically normal and healthy people perform. You then bustled yourself off to yet another exciting day of work, school, raising your children, enjoying your retirement or any other number of productive or leisurely activities. One thing you probably didn't do is stop by your local police station or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office and provide those kind men and women a detailed, hour by hour itinerary of your plans for the day, how long you thought these things would take, who you'd be seeing and where you'd be for most of the day. I know that you're probably pretty busy. Perhaps the critical importance of letting the government and its running dog corporate lackeys know where you were slipped your mind. Never fear. DHS has got you covered.

In a sad reminder of just how far government has sunken and how contemptuous many governmental bureaucratic or law-enforcement types are of a citizen's right to privacy and to be left alone, the DHS confirmed that it is seeking a private agency to assist it in building a database of every US license plate and its real time location.

The Department of Homeland Security wants a private company to provide a national license-plate tracking system that would give the agency access to vast amounts of information from commercial and law enforcement tag readers, according to a government proposal that does not specify what privacy safeguards would be put in place.The national license-plate recognition database, which would draw data from readers that scan the tags of every vehicle crossing their paths, would help catch fugitive illegal immigrants, according to a DHS solicitation. But the database could easily contain more than 1 billion records and could be shared with other law enforcement agencies, raising concerns that the movements of ordinary citizens who are under no criminal suspicion could be scrutinized.
The agency said the length of time the data is retained would be up to the winning vendor. Vigilant Solutions, for instance, one of the leading providers of tag-reader data, keeps its records indefinitely. Nationwide, local police as well as commercial companies are gathering license-plate data using various means. One common method involves drivers for repossession companies methodically driving up and down streets with cameras mounted on their cars snapping photos of vehicles. Some police forces have cameras mounted on patrol cars. Other images may be retrieved from border crossings, interstate highway on-ramps and toll plazas.

Customs and Border Protection, another DHS agency, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is part of the Justice Department, also have deployed cameras along the country’s borders. But DHS’s effort appears to be the first time a federal law enforcement agency is seeking such extensive access to a broad repository of data capturing the movements and images of American motorists from metropolitan ­areas...
If you've read this blog for more than a month or so you know where I stand on civil liberties and privacy. So you can probably guess what I think of this idea. Very simply this is bovine excrement. Wet stinky greasy foul bovine excrement. This is precisely the sort of thing that we read about states like Communist China or the former East Germany doing. A government that tries to know what its citizens are reading, with whom the citizens are communicating via phone, email, letter, and where the citizens are traveling and why is not a government that I have any respect for. It's a government that needs a radical haircut in its powers and so-called authority. If someone from the government wants to know what I did today they could ask me. And I could tell them to go  attempt airborne copulation with a rapidly revolving pastry. Unless I am under formal government control via imprisonment, parole or probation, who I talk to, why I talk to them, who I sleep with, where and why I travel, who my friends are and so forth and so on are none of the government's business. If the government REALLY needs to know, get a warrant. This is most definitely not a partisan issue. The great problem as I see it is that these increasing attacks on civil liberties and stepped up surveillance of citizen movements are sort of a Nixon to China moment. It took a right wing politician to attempt to woo China into the capitalist marketplace and make diplomatic concessions to the Chinese. This neutralized and isolated the rabid right-wing base that would have otherwise fiercely opposed such an action by a centrist or left leaning politician. Similarly if it had been widely reported under a Republican Administration that the FBI/DHS etc were seeking to maintain records of individual travel by all Americans, I suspect that many more left leaning activist groups and politicians might have slightly more than a few mild concerns to express. But because Obama is behind it you won't hear more than a few mumbles from most progressive people. This is wrong. Everyone should oppose these steps.

There are some fair minded people of goodwill who nevertheless still wonder why civil libertarians were so angered by warrantless wiretapping, metadata gathering, email and social network monitoring. They claim that as long as the government keeps us safe what's the big deal. To those people I would say that the big deal is exactly that giving the government a pass on the above activities, as we have largely done, just emboldens the government to take other bites out of our freedom. This really is a slippery slope.  People who come up with these sorts of ideas never ever have enough information. There's always someone out there who may have some fig leaf of privacy left. That bothers control freaks. There are many people who were alleged to have said this but it really is true that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  If you're still not convinced that this expansion is problematic I'm not sure what to say to you. The opportunities for abuse are endless in such a system. We know that the government already targets people with political views that it doesn't like. Is it such a leap to believe that armed with a real time database of people's travels that further abuses would proliferate?  Let's imagine for a moment that there is that is a pugnaciously righteous attorney general or governor of a large east coast state. This man has numerous bitter rivals and enemies among the political and financial establishment. So his detractors monitor his movements until they realize this pompous populist gadfly is spending quality time at a brothel or house of a woman not his wife. So the politician's rivals then try to blackmail this man into softening his stances or failing that charge him with a crime thus destroying his ability to seek higher office or threaten established financial power. Of course nothing like that would ever happen would it? I'm just being paranoid...
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