Big Brother is Watching
License plate readers used to record those
who attend political rallies.
What could possibly go wrong? - The Big Brother Police State is now using license plate scanners to compile lists of the names and addresses of supposedly free citizens who attend political rallies.
It would be wrong to think that our Lords and Masters in the Imperial capitol of Washington might misuse that information to crack down on political dissent.
The U.S. Secret Service requested that state police use one of its automated license plate readers at the entrance to the Pentagon to capture and store the plate images as an extra level of security for the inauguration, which was attended by an estimated 1.8 million people.
The same was requested for the political rallies.
Virginia State Police recorded the license plates of every vehicle arriving from Virginia to attend Barack Obama’s first inauguration in Washington in 2009, as well as those at campaign rallies three months earlier in Leesburg for then-candidate Obama and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin reports the Virginia Daily Progress.
The license plate readers requested for the political events “would detect any stolen vehicles attempting to enter the outer perimeter of the event and possibly allow for some record of attendees in the event that a serious [incident] occurred,” a state police sergeant wrote in a 2009 letter that outlined some of the department’s uses for the license plate reader technology.
Up until a February legal opinion issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on the collection and dissemination of license plate reader data, state police beginning in 2010 had stored the images of roughly 8 million license plates — some for as long as three years — on a server in the department’s data center at state police headquarters in Chesterfield County, said state police Sgt. Robert Alessi, the department’s statewide coordinator for the program.
But the department says all of it was purged in early March, after Cuccinelli advised that collecting and storing such data in a “passive manner” that is not directly related to a criminal investigation would be in violation of the state’s Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which recently published a national study on the privacy concerns of law enforcement use of license plate reader technology, criticized the gathering of such data at political rallies and the inauguration, and said that Virginians should be outraged by the state police’s recording of 8 million license plate images.
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The ACLU said the collection of license plate reader information presents a threat to citizens’ privacy that, if left unchecked, will allow police and government agencies to build databases on the movements of millions of Americans over months and even years. Attached to police cars or mounted along roadways, the scanners can identify vehicles almost instantly and collect records on every license plate they encounter.
“We don’t think this type of passive collection of information should be used, and there isn’t any reason to do it unless you’re going to store the data for some future use,” said Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia.
Gastañaga called the recording of license plates of vehicles driving to political rallies and Obama’s inauguration from Virginia “pretty astounding,” even if it was done with the best intentions of enhancing security.
“It’s a situation where you’re collecting a lot of information on a lot of people to potentially use if something bad happens at some unspecified future time and some unspecified situation,” she said. That line of reasoning, she said, “would justify a camera on every street corner recording all of our movements at all times, because it would be expedient to be able to have that to refer back to if there’s a bank robbery there two years from now.”