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License plate scanners

Your car's location is being routinely tracked by the government as you drive

Saturday, August 03, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: license plate scanners, surveillance state, police

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(NaturalNews) Do you have an expectation of privacy when you step into your vehicle? Apparently you don't, because in case you didn't know, you're being tracked everywhere you drive. And for that, you can blame the double-edged sword of technology.

The Information Age has made it much more affordable - and far too easy - for authorities and police to track your every move, in blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment's guarantee, which says "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..." Despite the amendment's clear language, however, police departments all over the country "have photographs of your car in their files, noting where you were driving on a particular day, even if you never did anything wrong," The Associated Press notes. Continuing, AP reports:

Using automated scanners, law enforcement agencies across the country have amassed millions of digital records on the location and movement of every vehicle with a license plate, according to a study published Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. Affixed to police cars, bridges or buildings, the scanners capture images of passing or parked vehicles and note their location, uploading that information into police databases. Departments keep the records for weeks or years, sometimes indefinitely.

'We can capture 7,000 plates in a shift'

As we have reported often, the basis for all of this surveillance and recording of movement is the threat of terrorism, despite the fact that terrorism cases in America are extremely rare and that the Constitution's privacy amendment does not contain a qualifier like "...as long as there is no threat to society."

The U.S. Supreme Court has been of some help, for a change, ruling in 2012 that police can't just track your car using GPS - global positioning system - technology without first obtaining a court-ordered warrant. But Congress and federal courts so far have been largely silent or absent regarding emerging technologies like license plate scanners, which "allow police effectively to track a driver's location, sometimes several times every day, with few legal restrictions," AP said.

In its report, "You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers are Being Used to Record Americans' Movements," the ACLU notes:

License plate readers would pose few civil liberties risks if they only checked plates against hot lists and these hot lists were implemented soundly. But these systems are configured to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location where all vehicles are seen - not just the data of vehicles that generate hits. All of this information is being placed into databases, and is sometimes pooled into regional sharing systems. As a result, enormous databases of motorists' location information are being created. All too frequently, these data are retained permanently and shared widely with few or no restrictions on how they can be used.

The scanners are able to capture a "single, high-resolution image of our lives," the civil rights organization says.

It's about the Constitution, stupid

"There's just a fundamental question of whether we're going to live in a society where these dragnet surveillance systems become routine," Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU, told the AP. Her organization has proposed that police departments immediately delete any records of cars not linked to any crimes.

Cops say the scanners allow departments to work smarter, not harder. For instance, AP reported. Maryland state officials say troopers there can "maintain a normal patrol stance" and still capture as many as 7,000 license plate images during a single eight-hour shift.

"At a time of fiscal and budget constraints, we need better assistance for law enforcement," Harvey Eisenberg, chief of the national security section and assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland, told the newswire service.

"There's no expectation of privacy" when you're operating a motor vehicle on a public road or if you're parked in a public place, said Lt. Bill Hedgpeth, a Mesquite, Texas Police Department spokesman. "It's just a vehicle. It's just a license plate."

No, Officer Hedgpeth, it's just a constitutional guarantee that you're violating.

His attitude and those of other law enforcement officers and courts of law who agree with him have this bass-ackwards. Americans who are not doing anything wrong and not suspected of doing anything wrong absolutely do have an expectation of privacy, or should. And why not? The basic founding premise of the Fourth Amendment is that Americans innocent of any wrongdoing should not have to be concerned with falling under surveillance, of any sort, at any time. So putting us under surveillance, for "public safety" or for any reason, is simply not constitutionally permissible.

But you have to have authorities who a) understand the Constitution's founding premises, and b) are honest enough to honor and uphold them. Guess that's too much to ask.





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