A national license plate recognition database apparently will soon become a reality in the United States, thanks to a Department of Homeland Security initiative.
Once the system is activated, personal information will be shared with law enforcement and governmental agencies on demand, allowing officials to know where someone has travelled.
It also will allow DHS agents to grab photos of a license plate with their smartphone and upload it into a government database, which will reportedly include “target vehicles” and “hot list” categories – all in the name of national security.
An official document uploaded to the Federal Business Opportunities website revealed the shocking details involved with the implementation of the national license plate recognition database. According to the government text, the DHS database program will track license plate numbers that either pass by cameras or are “voluntarily” entered into the system via a variety of different sources. The access points include law enforcement control systems and asset recovery specialists. The goal of the program is to “help locate criminal aliens and absconders.”
License plate readers themselves have been the subject of much discussion by civil liberties groups, as Off The Grid News reported. The readers are high-speed cameras and go largely unnoticed but can be found alongside roads, bridges and overpasses, in small towns and big cities alike. They’re also mounted on some police cars. The scanners were the subject of a 2013 report by the ACLU, “You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used To Record Americans’ Movements.”
One 2011 survey by a police research organization found that nearly three-quarter of police agencies used license plate readers, the ACLU said in its 34-page report. That same survey also found that 85 percent of agencies said they planned on increasing their use of the readers in the next five years.
Homeland Security wants to put all that information into one database.
“The database should track vehicle license plate numbers that pass through cameras or are voluntarily entered into the system from a variety of sources … and uploaded to share with law enforcement,” the DHS document states. “… Officers should be able to query the NLPR database with license plate numbers … to determine where and when the vehicle has traveled.”
The DHS document does not say specifically how long the data will be kept – only that it will be in the system for “months.”
National license plate recognition systems in countries like the United Kingdom are already being used to monitor citizens attending political protests. One such protestor was added to the hot list after taking part in an anti-war protest. The man was questioned by police officer under anti-terror laws after authorities learned his name and address from the license plate scan. Critics of the license plate tracking system in Australia have deemed the systems a Pandora’s box for “abuse of power, mistakes, and illegal disclosure.”
An excerpt from a National Department of Justice report about the license plate tracking system reads:
[License plate tracking] technology is a significant tool in the arsenal of law enforcement and public safety agencies. Realizing the core business values that ALPR promise, however, can only be achieved through proper planning, implementation, training, deployment, use, and management of the technology and the information it provides. Like all tools and technologies available to law enforcement, ALPR must also be carefully managed. Policies must be developed and strictly enforced to ensure the quality of the data, the security of the system, compliance with applicable laws and regulations, and the privacy of information gathered.
The ACLU has warned that license plate readers can have a chilling effect on free speech. That point was mirrored in a 2009 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which noted that citizens “are already compelled to disclose a great deal” about their lives.
By using licenses plate readers, the chiefs of police report said, individuals might “become more cautious in the exercise of their protected rights of expression, protest, association, and political participation because they consider themselves under constant surveillance.”
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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit made a similar argument in a 2009 ruling. In that decision, which declared warrantless GPS tracking by police unconstitutional, the court said that by following citizen’s travel patterns, police can determine a lot about a person.
“A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts,” the court said.
In 2005, New York City police used license plate readers to record every car parked outside specific mosques, the Associated Press reported.
“Police departments in other parts of the country could easily do the same thing to Tea Party groups, anti-abortion protesters, or the political opposition of a sheriff running for re-election,” the ACLU report said.
The ACLU concluded: “In our society, it is a core principle that the government does not invade people’s privacy and collect information about citizens’ innocent activities just in case they do something wrong. Clear regulations must be put in place to keep the government from tracking our movements on a massive scale.”
We all want to thwart terrorism and keep our loved ones safe, but as Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once said: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
What do you think of the nationwide license plate tracking system?