ALPRs…at least we never have to feel all alone anymore
What’s an ALPR you say? Well, it’s just another way of knowing we live in a surveillance state. ALPRs, or automated license plate readers/recognition are cameras that can be placed on stationary objects or, most often, on police cars. They capture every license plate that comes in their field of view, complete with images and GPS tags. Absent legislative protection, your movements on the public roads can be retroactively tracked and kept forever. It may be true that most of us do not have an expectation of privacy regarding the location of our cars while we are driving down a public road, but being tracked when you leave the house, forever and always, creates an uber-creepy panopticon where all of us live under the withering gaze of the all-seeing Eye of Mordor.
Speaking of all-seeing eye…these ALPRs can be equipped on drones. The LA Times reported in February “In theory, drones can offer unblinking eye-in-the-sky coverage. They can carry high-resolution video cameras, infrared sensors, license plate readers, listening devices and other high-tech gear. Companies have marketed drones disguised as sea gulls and other birds to mask their use.”
Shudder Shudder. Note to self, beware of hovering sea gulls.
This practice is particularly creepy when you consider it is democracy free. Towns and States have not generally voted to allow this technology. Most of the ALPRs are provided through Homeland Security grants. The public discussion of our privacy, and in particular, our expectations of privacy in our aggregated and centralized public data, is proceeding much more slowly than the technology is being deployed.
So, what are we to do? Talk faster? Ditch our cars, cover our cell phones in aluminum foil, and move only at night wearing disguise and fleeing all sea gulls?
The ACLU of Vermont, my State, has done a fantastic job of exposing this surveillance tactic through the use of public record requests. In their 4-5-13 newsletter, they state: “The advent of ALPRs in Vermont was little-noticed. The systems started popping up in police departments here and there, and then around the state. Most systems were paid for by grants from the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Last summer the ACLU did a number of public records requests that revealed ALPRS were in use by more than two dozen departments in all parts of the state, and that data captured by the readers was aggregated in a central DPS database in Waterbury. The aggregation in a central database is important, because it allows the systems to function as a tracking tool. Type in a plate number and the places, times, and dates the car was picked up by an ALPR camera appear.”
Public record requests may be a way citizens can pull back some of the secrecy from many of these types of programs. Well, that and supporting your local ACLU. At the Kiosk, we will be providing forms, links, and hopefully helpful information on public record requests/FOIA requests soon.
Until then, drive carefully and BEWARE THE GULLS!