Smile, You're On Cop Camera

Government cameras already know everywhere your car has been.

There's a saying that "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you."

Your humble correspondent would prefer not to be considered a member of the tinfoil-hat brigade of paranoiacs, conspiracy theorists, and other assorted nutters.  Nevertheless, we do still have our little quirks which occasionally crop up in the pages of Scragged, one of which is preferring not to use an EZ-Pass transponder on our cars.

While we have nothing illegal to hide, still, we don't like the idea of the Powers That Be having a massive database they can trawl through to find out everywhere we've been.

Turns out, we weren't too paranoid; we were not paranoid enough.  The 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.

Everybody has a license plate on their car - that's the law.  With computerized cameras all over the place, those cameras can read all those license plates - then upload information on when and where they were seen.  A big enough database fed by enough cameras, and the police will pretty much know everywhere your car went, and when - EZ-pass or no.

This illustrates an important but subtle distinction: There is a big difference between the existence of information in public, and actually collecting and accumulating it into an easily-searchable record.

Of course, where you drive your car is not a secret.  You're on the public road where everyone has a right to be, including the police.  If the cops want to tail you around, they can, and they don't even need a warrant.

And many is the case that has been solved because a witness happened to see a particular car in a particular place in a particular time.  Again, the presence of that car is no secret, and a random passer-by just happened to notice it when it mattered.

Is that fundamentally the same thing as cameras that automatically record everyone everywhere which can be instantly searched at any time?  Each individual piece of data is public, legal, and could have been obtained at any time in history.  Once you put it all together... you've got something else.

Police, or a Police State?

No sane person objects to the existence of police, in fact we're glad they're around.  When you have police on every corner, though, we get nervous - even if nothing else has changed.

You'll notice that our source for the AP article above was a far, far lefty site.  This wasn't accidental.  The loony left is nuts a lot of the time, but there are a number of areas in which their concerns mirror those of the right, and government surveillance is one of them.

Conservatives and libertarians want to be left alone by their government.  The left tends to want absolute government control of everyone else - but when they wind up being snooped on, they get just as shirty as any other American.

That's why the mainstream media suddenly started asking pointed questions when it was discovered that the government was tapping the phone lines of lefty journalists, not just Fox News.  The denizens of our link aren't so exalted, but they, too, had pungent things to say about their onetime savior:

Well, you could have voted for Ron Paul, as Edward Snowden apparently did, instead of for the primary advocate of the state surveillance apparatus and promoter of the PATRIOT Act and NDAA, Barack H. Obama.

Indeed they could have. So could have we, on several occasions.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like anyone else in either party is particularly worried about government snooping; after all, they are the government.

Maybe what we need is a scandal where it's discovered that the government is tapping their phones - that is, those of Congress?  Otherwise, you may as well just keep a big smile on your face for the cameras watching you drive - and go ahead and buy that EZ-Pass.  It won't make things any worse than they already are.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Law.
Reader Comments

Looks like the cops won't even need ground-level cameras much longer. The DoD is mooring surveillance blimps over the Washington DC area with a range of 350 miles - primarily to watch out for missiles, but they can track any vehicle. Not clear if they have cameras that can read everyone's license plate though.

July 25, 2013 12:38 PM

You know, I'm rarely happy that the police are around. While I think it's probably true that a certain police presence in and around neighborhoods cuts down on mischief, it's also true that they cannot possibly arrive until the trouble is already over, for better or worse. Too many believe they are on missions from God. Their presence in traffic disrupts and snarls it. If you have any contact with them, you are the enemy and subject to a guilty-until-proven-innocent treatment. Do I trust them? Absolutely not. Not with this data or with anything else.

July 27, 2013 8:42 AM
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