Saturday, September 27, 2014

License Plate Readers

The US Department of Transportation is commissioning a study of license plate reading camera systems to see how they are being used and to evaluate their performance, according to an article in a trucking publication.

"Automatice license-plate readers may be deployed for homeland security, to locate stolen vehicles, and to uncover various license offenders. The upcoming study will also reveal whether law enforcement are using the devices for any other purposes, such as speed enforcement, the notice states."

I wrote about license plate reading cameras after the ACLU released their own study of them, which basically showed how widespread they are. The ACLU simply sent out Freedom of Information requests to all kinds of law enforcement agencies. In looking through what the New Mexico State Police released to them I discovered that New Mexico's system is hooked into the National Security Agency's PRISM system, that ungodly all intrusive track everything, cell phone call and text message intercepting, all internet traffic eavesdropping on, sweep it all up database the NSA is keeping on everything that happens in the world and that was exposed by Edward Snowden.

It's safe to say that if you drive, your movements are being tracked, but the ACLU raised questions about the legality of all this, especially in the absence of having policies in place for the systems' use, which the NM state police, for example, didn't.

In looking for information on the Department of Transportation study, I see that a cottage industry has grown up that supplies the public with ways to prevent license plates from being read.

There are sprays you can spray on your license plate (that are invisible to the naked eye!) that make the plate invisible to the infrared plate reading cameras.

And there are license plate frames, remotely controlled with a key fob, that can flip the plate down and out of sight. Available at Amazon.

Hey, it's the free market, man. It's that entrepreneurial spirit, the one that makes us so great.

I noticed, however, that this week, some federal law enforcement leaders came out strongly against Apple and Google for putting out new cell phones that will encrypt all the data in them. In other words, the police won't be able to just confiscate your cell phone and flip through it to see what they might find. These top cops doled out the usual claptrap about how it will cost lives and so forth but their opposition sounded somewhat hysterical to me.

Law enforcement can point to cases they've solved with cell phone data. They can find out where someone was, where they are, who they talked to. I've read about such cases. They don't want that tool taken away, they maintain. This is understandeable

But I see their opposition another way.

Police, whether they are aware of it or not, are part of the system of societal control. Police are given special powers and privileges because they are part of that system. The are exempt from the normal rules because if it. They have special status.

Police have the approval of the people in positions of great power, who themselves are likely not even consciously aware of this system, although their daily actions perpetuate and direct it.

We seek power in various ways, through position, prestige, having money. It satisfies a human need, the need to not be controlled. It's what sets up this struggle between the police (FBI, CIA and NSA included) and the people who don't want to be spied on.

Technology gives police an upper hand in the struggle for power and they are alarmed that the people are using technology to regain some of their power.

The initial uproar over the Edward Snowden revelation, even among civil libertarians, has dwindled, however. Other injustices come along every day to divert attention from it, and civil libertarians never were able to generate much public interest in being spied on. People have a tendency, anyway, to accept surveillance because they think it brings security. Just last week, we were treated to an example of how this works and how it plays out in the media.

In the latest Attractive White Girl Gone Missing incident, involving a Virginia college student, police were able to go around town and collect up surveillance camera video that showed her movements the night she went missing. There was a college dorm camera, and a store's interior surveillance camera that picked her up walking past on the street outside with someone who later became a suspect, and of course it could all be put together with the GPS locations of her cell phone, which the police (higher authorities, actually) can order her cell phone provider to give them.

When you see something like this on the TV or internet you can say, "uh huh, surveillance good." It eases the mind about it.

But none of this helps the girl or her parents. She's still missing. They are still sick with worry.

Well, you think. Maybe it will make the next perpetrator think twice.

No, it won't. It does nothing to change why humans prey on other humans. Nothing to make the United States a place where women can move about without danger, or kids can play outside at night and parents don't have to worry, or a place where we don't lock up more of our fellow citizens than anyplace else in the world.

Civil libertarians like to remind us of all the instances when fear was used as a tool to implement authoritarian systems. Nazi Germany is the all time favorite. People just like us turned into obedient sheep.

The key of course is that the German people weren't thinking they were being controlled. They were thinking they were being protected by their leaders. They got used to Gestapo in the streets. If there had been license plate reading cameras they'd have gotten used to those.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Yes dear good information, now many people use anti photo license plate cover to hide from camera. The vehicles which do not possess a valid registration number plate on it are not allowed to be driven on road. So we should take care license plate of our vehicle. Now various leading companies manufacture superior quality of covering in the form of license plate protector to ensure complete safety of these license plates.