Apparently the government not only is monitoring telephone activity, maintaining back-door access to computers and networks and photographing mail, it is recording where your vehicle’s license plate is seen – and storing the details.
The report comes from the Center for Investigative Reporting, which explained in an online posting that police officers can gain insight into who are your friends, where you shop, where you work, where you go to church and whether you go to political meetings based on the tracking of your car.
The report, from website contributor Ali Winston, cited the situation for computer security consultant Michael Katz-Lacabe of San Leandro, Calif. He found out that police there had photographed his two cars on 112 occasions, including once in 2009 when he and his daughters were exiting the car in their own driveway.
That, he told CIR, made him “frightened and concerned about the magnitude of police surveillance and data collection.”
The report said police agencies, at least throughout California, are collecting records on drivers by the millions and feeding them to intelligence “fusion centers.”
According to the report, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center recently signed an agreement with a company called Palantir to built a database of license plate records across 14 counties.
Contract documents uncovered by the center revealed the database can handle 100 million records – and be readily accessible to law enforcement.
The report said law enforcement agencies all across the region are working on similar projects.
“It’s new technology, we’re learning as we go, but it works 100 times better than driving around looking for license plates with your eyes,” Lt. Randall Brandt of the San Leandro police told the center.
License plate reader technology already is common in localities where police use them to identify speeders or those who run red lights, and police say it offers great help.
“We found 10 stolen vehicles on the first weekend in 2005 with our anti-theft teams,” said Sid Heal, formerly with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
The report said in San Diego alone, more than a dozen government agencies have put into a database more than 36 million license-plate scans in recent years.
Privacy experts, however, have concerns.
“Because so many people in the Bay Area are mobile, it makes it that much more possible to track people from county to county,” Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Winston.
That group has gone to court to clarify practices and procedures for the technology.
“License-plate data is clearly identifiable to specific individuals,” said Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This is like having your barcode tracked.”
Former California state Sen. Joe Simitian, wanted such data purged from computers after a 60-day period.
“Do we really want to maintain a database that tracks personal movements of law-abiding citizens in perpetuity? That’s the fundamental question here,” he told CIR.