Why a national license plate database should worry every American


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is now seeking a vendor to build and operate a smartphone-based national database of vehicle license plate information that would be shared with law enforcement.

Under the DHS plan, an agent could snap a photo with a smartphone, upload it to the database, and immediately be notified whether the plate is on a “hot list” of “target vehicles.”   

“This system is supposed to be for the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement branch of DHS, for the tracking of illegal immigrants,” says WTOP National Security Correspondent J.J. Green.

ICE spokesperson Gillian Christensen tells Federal News Radio, “the database could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations.”  DHS officially solicited the vendor on the Federal Business Opportunities website, for a National License Plate Recognition Database.

“It pretty much catches all the movements of cars, people, buses – pretty much anything that moves, at least in the cities,” says Green. 

In a 2013 report entitled “You are being tracked: How license plate readers are being used to record Americans’ movements,” the ACLU says the opportunity to misuse the data is large. 

“The knowledge that one is subject to constant monitoring can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and association,” according to the report. 

“If not properly secured, license plate reader databases open the door to abusive tracking, enabling anyone with access to pry into the lives of his boss, his ex- wife, or his romantic, political, or workplace rivals,” says the ACLU. 

“There are some significant concerns,” says WTOP’s Green, “and probably rightly so, in light of the Edward Snowden revelations, that it could be used for something other than what it’s intended for.” 

Green says the increased use of technology in maintaining public safety makes some people nervous. 

“You walk out of your house with a smartphone, you’re on the grid. You walk to your car, there possibly is a camera that tracks you to your car. You get in your car, you probably have some sort of WiFi capability in your car, so your car is on the grid. You go into your building there are cameras in the building.” 

According to Green, “People are concerned this is going to be another piece of information the government could use to keep tabs on them 24 hours a day.”  

“You’re just somehow never alone or away from the glaring eyes, in the minds of some, of Big Brother,” says Green.  Homeland Security officials say the database would be run by the commercial enterprise and the data would be collected and stored by the enterprise, not the federal government. 
Big Brother to spy & track you based upon “certain characteristics of operational interest”

The federal government is planning an even more invasive spy program using “physiological signatures” to track down individuals.

The goal of this research is to detect – as well as analyze and categorize – unique traits the government can exploit to “identify, locate and track specific individuals or groups of people.”

According to the program’s statement of objectives, “The scope of human-centered [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR] research spans the complete range of human performance starting at the individual molecular, cellular, genomic level.”

Documents WND located through routine database research reveal the ability to follow people by detecting “certain characteristics of operational interest” is designed for U.S. military and intelligence-gathering superiority.

It remains unknown when such capabilities might transition to the realm of domestic counterterrorism or law enforcement operations; however, the feds – through the Air Force Research Lab, or AFRL – are recruiting private-sector assistance in order to make this “biosignature” spying a reality.

Existing ISR systems are “ideal for identifying and tracking entities such as aircraft and vehicles, but are less capable of identifying and tracking the human,” the lab says in a planning document known as a Broad Agency Announcement, or BAA.

The Human-Centered ISR Leveraged Science & Technology Program will seek to develop, with outside help, technologies that the government can use “to identify, locate and track humans of interest within the operational environment,” according to solicitation No. BAA-HPW-RHX-2014-0001.

This new research scheme seeks to strengthen the ability of intelligence analysts by placing the human component at the forefront of their efforts.

AFRL’s research could have implications for a variety of domains, such as air, space and cyberspace, it says. The program’s outcome also will broadly apply to other U.S. Department of Defense organizations and the intelligence community.

A second component of the AFRL initiative is the Human Trust and Interaction Program, which will conduct research into human-to-human and human-to-machine interactions.

This program segment entails several sub-areas, including Trust and Suspicion, which will focus on “the recognition of suspicious activities in the cyberspace realm.”

This segment will examine open-source data such as social media. It also will continue to leverage “more traditional intelligence sources.”

NSA director admits they should have told Americans they’re spying on every phone call:

The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the problems facing the U.S. intelligence community over its collection of phone records could have been avoided. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.

“What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” he said, referring to the first disclosures from Snowden. If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it. But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing.”

Ben Wizner—a legal adviser to Snowden and the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project—said he agreed with Clapper’s current assessment. “If Clapper is suggesting that the American people should have been consulted before the NSA engaged in a mass phone call tracking program, I emphatically agree,” he said “Whether we would have consented to that at the time will never be known, we are now having a debate in Congress and in the courts that we should have had then.”

The intelligence chief wrote in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, that the leak of the 215 program along with others “will do significant damage to the Intelligence Community’s ability to protect the nation.” (Of course, Snowden leaked more than the broad outlines of the program that Clapper said he would’ve liked disclosed.)

In the interview with Mitchell, Clapper said he believed that “collection of a U.S. person’s data would mean taking the books off the shelf, opening it up and reading it.” The 215 program, in contrast, is the mass collection of nearly every phone call record made through a U.S. telecommunications company, but not the contents of those calls themselves. Sometimes known as telephony metadata, this information is comprised of the time, duration and number dialed of a phone number. Millions and millions of people are impacted by it.

At the time, Joel Brenner, a former inspector general for the NSA, defended Clapper saying Wyden was wrong to ask him a question for which he knew the answer was classified.

But Clapper told The Daily Beast that he simply misunderstood Wyden’s question. At the time of the hearing last March, Congress had just finished consideration of a bill to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Section 702 of that legislation gives the National Security Agency the authority to collect the electronic communications of non-U.S. persons. In his question, Wyden asked initially if the United States had collected “dossiers” on American citizens and referred to an answer to this question by then NSA director, Keith Alexander.


2 thoughts on “Why a national license plate database should worry every American

  1. For Humans to be healthy the must live in three worlds.

    1. Public
    2. Private
    3. Spiritual

    The Spying mixes these three worlds. This is why lives are destroyed. Find out say what a religion or sex preferrence is and boom death to your Public life, or Your private life might destroy your public life, or your Public life might destroy your Private, or Spiritual life.

    Also, the fact the government passes it off to a private corporation is on purpose, the corporation is a proxy. The corporation doesn’t give two cents about “oaths” or oath of office–just pay me and I’ll do it. etc..

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