On the heels of the recently unveiled government programs to collect phone and internet records, the American Civil Liberties Union has unveiled another potential invasion of privacy involving automatic license plate readers.
The license plate readers, which are typically mounted on patrol cars or stationary objects like bridges, were initially used for law enforcement purposes such as acting on arrest warrants or finding stolen cars.
However, the ACLU claims that all of the data collected by the plate readers is increasingly being fed into massive databases that contain the location information of many millions of innocent Americans stretching back for months or even years.
The ACLU said it discovered the data collection after analyzing more than 26,000 pages of documents from police departments in cities and towns across the country.
Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said, "As it becomes increasingly clear that ours is an era of mass surveillance facilitated by ever cheaper and more powerful computing technology (think about the NSA's call logging program), it is critical we learn how this technology is being used."
"License plate readers are just one example of a disturbing phenomenon: the government is increasingly using new technology to collect information about all of us, all the time, and to store it forever - providing a complete record of our lives for it to access at will," she added.
The ACLU noted that license plate reader information can be very revealing, offering a powerful tracking tool as the government stores data for longer and longer.
The technology could potentially track a person's trips to places of worship, political protests, or gun ranges, providing powerful indicators of their beliefs.
"Is it really the government's business how often you go to the drug store or liquor store, what doctors you visit, and the identities of your friends?" Crump asked.
"I'm sure all of us can remember something from our past that could embarrass us," she added. "If the government comes to suspect you of something in 2020, should it have access to databases stretching back years that could dig up facts about you that previously went unnoticed?"
by RTT Staff Writer
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