Saturday, July 20, 2013

 It is not the Constitution that is being subverted by Big Brother so much as the will to resist, without which there never could have been a Constitution in the first place.  Garret Keizer

Government Spying In New Mexico

I've mentioned the government's real-time tracking of commercial truck traffic and how it makes it harder to cheat on your log book. I knew of a couple ways tracking is done, based mainly on truck drivers' stories of tickets they'd received. If you go through a weigh station, you're time stamped. You're also time stamped if you subscribe to the new "Pre-Pass" system, which uses transponders that let you bypass weigh stations if you have a good safety record.

A study released by the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, reveals another, more intrusive way not just trucks but all vehicles are being tracked all over America, including here in New Mexico, by way of a little known technology that uses small, high-speed cameras mounted on poles, bridges or wherever, and on patrol cars, that can actually read the license plate numbers of thousands of passing vehicles.

There's been a little information come out on these systems, in the news I read anyway. It was first used in larger cities but has quickly spread to cover the whole country. Initially, each law enforcement agency kept its own data base, but under information sharing encouraged by the federal government, those systems have been increasingly connected to the secret "fusion centers" set up after 9-11 to enhance law enforcement information sharing. (At these centers they are supposedly looking for terrorists, but as happened in the Boston area fusion center, they spend so much of their time spying on Occupy members, Leftist activists and environmentalists that they missed the Boston Marathon bombers.)

The ACLU asked its state chapters to submit freedom of information (FOI) requests to their governments about the existence of license plate reader systems and whether or not rules had been adopted for their use. In the absence of such rules, the ACLU says, tracking information can be used for whatever reason anyone who has access to the data wants to use it for, and if a private company is running the system, it can use the data for its own purposes, and can sell it.

In New Mexico the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department and the New Mexico Department of Public Satefy, the state police, released documents. The sheriff's department gave the ACLU documents pertaining to the purchase of three of the cameras with a $23,000 grant from the state of New Mexico. (Whether the grant came from, or through, the state I can't tell. The federal government especially after 9-11 has been doling out massive amounts of money to local police for surveillance systems, armament, armor piercing bullets, tanks, armored personnel carriers, you name it, and that kind of money is often funneled through state governments.)

The sheriff's department paperwork mentions three "infrared cameras," meaning they can take pictures 24 hours a day. The grant paperwork says the sheriff's department wanted the cameras so they could find stolen vehicles, but the sheriff's department supplied no records about rules for the use of the data being collected. If that means no rules are in place, it can be used for anything.

No mention is made in the sheriff's department paperwork about a private contractor, so I don't know if one is involved or not.

In its response letter to the ACLU, the state police said there is no policy in place for use of the data it's collecting with the cameras. The state police, which in New Mexico also run the weigh stations, released much more information in response to the ACLU's request, including instruction manuals from "Intelligent Imaging Systems Inc." for using their system that reveal a lot about the system's capabilities. For example, when a camera reads a license plate number, a search for information on the vehicle can be initiated automatically.

I saw nothing in the paperwork that points to its use as general surveillance tool, but I saw nothing either that says what the information is used for. The instruction manual did included this screen shot showing the results of an automatic search for records, and it looks very similar to the computer screen display I see the state police officer looking at when I pass the booth at the Gallup weigh station every night.

According to the 247 pages of documents released by the state police, the cameras are installed at each NM weigh station, or Port of Entry as they are called here.

I pass two of the cameras every night. The one that generates the computer screen I already mentioned is on the off-ramp leading to the weigh station on I-40 just west of Gallup, i.e., as you're coming into New Mexico. The other is across the expressway from there. It reads the license plate numbers of vehicles leaving New Mexico. I always pass both at night, when you an see the glow of the infrared light that's beamed across the highway.

As the ACLU says, "License plate readers can serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose when they alert police to the location of a car associated with a criminal investigation. But such instances account for a tiny fraction of license plate scans, and too many police departments are storing millions of records about innocent drivers. Moreover, private companies are also using license plate readers and sharing the information they collect with police with little or no oversight or privacy protections. A lack of regulation means that policies governing how long our location data is kept vary widely."

As has come to light, the NSA or any agency doesn't have to read your emails or listen to your phone conversations. If they know things like who you are in contact with and when, where you go and when, where you buy things and when, they already know who you are and can use statistical analysis to compile a very comprehensive profile on you. As one of our spy chiefs let slip in a congressional hearing the other day, they check out not just you, they check out who you are in contact with, and then they check out who those people are in contact with. When you do the math on how many people that adds up to, they are checking out every one of us. That's us, not foreigners. Us.

And recall that Edward Snowden worked for a private contractor, not the NSA, and that private corporations are doing most of the spying on US citizens on behalf of the government.

I didn't know the extent to which the pictures being taken of my every night were used for. I just always made sure I had my seat belt on when I passed them, and had everything cleared off the dash board, and wasn't yawning or scratching myself. Now I'll know to not act be acting like a Communist or an Arab or a Muslim or an environmentalists or an Occupy member.

I should add that as the strong, intelligent, handsome commercial vehicle enforcement officers of this state and every state well know, I always have my seat belt on and always follow all the rules, even when I think no one else knows. God bless America.

Note: There are 11 state police camera sites across the state; two at Lordsburg's weigh stations, two others on I-10 at Lordsburg, two at Gallup, two at San Juan, two at Anthony, and one on NM 392 at mile marker 2, which is where you'd put one if you wanted to catch truckers who are trying to dodge the scales at San Juan.

The locations of New Mexico's state police cameras systems makes it look to me like they are meant to focus on trucking, with the possible exception of all the cameras at Lordsburg in southern New Mexico. In southern New Mexico there are also a series of immigration department inspections sites, where they are looking for illegal immigrants. Near Truth or Consequences on I-25 there's a camera system that's been there awhile, that uses a bright strobe light to take pictures of you inside your car or truck cab.

Cost Vs Benefit: I didn't read all 247 pages released by the state police but scanning them noticed multiple contracts with Intelligent Systems Inc., of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, for equipment, instillation and training, several for more than $1 million each. One was for almost $3 million. There was a purchase order for installing the system at the San Jon Port of Entry for $489,032. At Anthony (the weigh station coming into New Mexico on I-10 from Texas) the purchase order was for $532,825.

If I was reporting on this for a newspaper I'd get someone familiar with these kinds of contracts, and with New Mexican government paperwork, to look it all over before I said what the total cost was, and I'd get the people who approved it to justify the cost.

But I can say that the trucking industry looks at all this as pretty much wasted money. Money spent to solve a problem that doesn't really exist, because per mile driven, truck drivers have far fewer accidents than the motoring public generally.

Motor Carrier Enforcement, as it's called, the part of law enforcement that deals with trucking, in an era of government downsizing has become a growth area in government. Across the country you see lots of new, high tech, very big weigh stations, complexes many of them, with multi-bay inspection garages that have lots of fancy new equipment in them and high rise observation towers that look like airport control towers, all built in the past 10 years.

At the federal level they been busy dreaming up a series of new log book regulations that make no sense, which are annoying and time consuming to comply with, some of which have actually made trucking less safe in my view.

Part of this growth in trucking law enforcement has been driven by a couple of public safety organizations that agitate for stricter control of trucking, which include people who have lost loved ones in accidents involving semi trucks. These groups are a lot like the Mothers Against Drunk Driving outfit, which, and not to minimize peoples' personal losses, but which are a bunch of vindictive people with nothing better to do than to publicly glory in their suffering and who like to nourish their suffering by constantly talking about their never ending suffering, and who have found somebody to pay for their suffering who doesn't have any power. Alcoholics, people who suffer from the disease of alcoholism, bear the brunt of Mothers Against Drunk Driving's never ending vindictiveness.

And part of it is driven by the fact that there's nothing but a little token resistance to any of it from the trucking industry. The Teamsters Union, which now represents only a small fraction of truck drivers, says nothing. Individual truckers sometimes talk about organizing to seek better pay or to fight the increasing regulations, but the pool of drivers has always been dominated by drivers from the South, and now there's the nationwide dominance of conservative talk radio, and any organizing talk is always stopped short by someone who bad mouths unions.

Trucking company owners are organized but are concerned only as it affects productivity, that is, how much money they can make off each truck driver.


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