This article was published by the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, October 5, 2016:
In 2012 the Wall Street Journal published a 10-page warning about the surveillance state being enhanced through the use of license plate scanners. It showed that, with this final piece of the surveillance puzzle put into place, an individual’s private life can be built, observed, tracked, followed, and, when determined necessary, intercepted by federal agencies. Wrote the Journal:
Cellphone-location data, online searches, credit-card purchases, social-network comments and more are gathered, mixed-and-matched, and [then] stored in vast databases….
Data about a typical American is collected in more than 20 different ways during everyday activities [including, according to a report the Journal obtained from the International Association of Chiefs of Police] “vehicles parked at addiction-counseling meetings, doctors’ offices, health clinics, or even staging areas for political protests.”
Last week the Journal updated its view of the surveillance state: it now includes scanning the license plates of vehicles belonging to attendees of gun shows. What is unnerving is that theJournal’s update reveals what’s been going on since 2010 – six years ago – when ICE (the Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agency “persuaded” local police to use scanners mounted on their police cruisers to read the license plates at local gun shows in southern California. The idea was simple: compare those plates to those of vehicles leaving California into Mexico. Put two and two together and they have a gunrunner suspect worthy of further investigation.
Putting “two-and-two” together can have unhappy consequences, however. The ACLU posited this scenario where the surveillance system could lead to very seerious difficulties for innocents caught in the web:
A citizen group organizes a protest calling for an end to the “war on terror.” Many people show up. The police department uses a license plate reader-equipped police cruiser to scan the license plates of all who park in a nearby parking lot.
They then investigate these individuals, showing up at their places of employment to ask questions about their backgrounds.
A DEA risk-analysis system alerts the police in Utah that the same car is traveling between Salt Lake City and Nogales, Arizona on a monthly basis.
The next night, a divorced father visiting his child in Arizona receives a knock on the door from federal agents to interrogate him about his travel.
Drug dealer, or dedicated dad? Data-mining systems can’t tell the difference.
An affluent suburbanite has a friend who lives in a poor neighborhood where drugs are often sold. The police get an alert that he is a regular visitor to this neighborhood, and he gets pulled over on a pretext [“driving erratically”] several times so they can search his car, and a police “intelligence squad” opens a file on him.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its own warning about the coming surveillance state in 2010, in United States v. Maynard:
A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups – and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.
The temptation to catch bad guys using improving technology that costs less and less was just too much for the Sheriff’s Department of Riverside County, California. It’s been using license plate scanners, funded with federal (i.e., taxpayer) money for almost ten years. The database, which now contains millions of bits of data on its unsuspecting citizens, is open to any law enforcement official to peruse “in the furtherance of [his or her] professional duties,” according to Sgt. Liz McConnell. She added that those records will be kept indefinitely.
It’s not just ICE that’s focusing on gun shop attendees, either. In June, MSNBC correspondent Aaron McCarthy interviewed an agent with the National Security Agency, one William Hunsaker, and questioned him about that agency’s hyper-focus on those gun owners:
McCarthy: Mr. Hunsaker, if I were to make the statement: most gun owners within the United States receive more aggressive surveillance from the government than non-gun owners, would that statement be true or false?
Hunsaker: That would be a true statement. The NSA has been collecting and compiling records of gun ownership for the purpose of protective surveillance since 1999.
Hunsaker: It’s nothing more than collecting and utilizing data. It’s not always a popular stance. However, the truth is that individuals with guns inflict harm on other individuals.
We understand that not all individuals who own firearms have intentions to inflict malice on others. However, many times we have the ability to identify those who do.
Additionally, we are able to gain insights into gun owners’ mental stability through intensive and strategic surveillance.
McCarthy: Who is on your high-priority surveillance list?
Hunsaker: Have you applied for or purchased a firearm in the United States between the years of 1999 and 2016? If so, then you are on the list.
With license plate scanning, the surveillance state has now closed the loop: it can track and follow everyone everywhere, all the time. The only question remaining is why? As mission creep expands federal agencies’ power, even that question won’t be necessary: if one is doing something that someone else deems to be potentially dangerous, it’ll be the Minority Report applied with a vengeance and no regard to Constitutional guarantees against such conduct.
Wall Street Journal: Gun-Show Customers’ License Plates Come Under Scrutiny
Wall Street Journal: New Tracking Frontier: Your License Plates