"Never mind, we already know."
This diary concerns another data point in the ongoing conversation about the lengths to which the government is going to keep tabs on us - all of us. This particular story starts a couple of weeks ago. I had been working late on a project and stopped at a 24-hour store on the way home to pick up a few items. This put me on the local highway during prime drunk-driving time, after midnight on Saturday night. Despite not having had anything to drink, and driving fine, I was pulled over. OK. What now? Well, according to the State Policeman who stopped me, my license plate was too low behind my bumper and the expiration sticker couldn't be clearly seen.
Now keep in mind, my truck has been on the road for over 22 years with the plates mounted in exactly the same spot. I assumed this was just another excuse to pull someone over late at night, our highway version of stop-and-frisk. But then, 5 nights later, I was again pulled over late at night because ... my license plate was not properly legible. But this time, it had nothing to do with the expiration date - a problem I had not yet gotten around to fixing as it entailed pulling the plate off and redrilling the mounting holes. No, this time it was because my ball hitch was obscuring the plate. Meanwhile, my passenger was also asked to provide ID as the second cop made some mention of them wanting to know who was where. Considering that we had just come from the bar where I was playing music, and that we had both had a couple of beers, we weren't in a position to complain or refuse to comply with basic requests - AND I felt like we were being stop-and-frisked yet again, and a bit over-the-top as well.
So, in addition to pulling my plate and redrilling it, AND pulling my trailer hitch - which being in the center, did not actually obscure the plate, I also started pondering why I had been pulled over twice in one week for similar but different license plate issues. It occurred to me that one possible explanation would be that they have some new high-tech license plate scanner that was unable to read my plates or had difficulty with them, and the officers made up their own reasons on the fly as to why that was the case. That got me interested in the topic which led me to a couple of articles about the use of Automated License Plate Readers.
Law enforcement agencies are increasingly using sophisticated cameras, called “automated license plate readers” or ALPR, to scan and record the license plates of millions of cars across the country. These cameras, mounted on top of patrol cars and on city streets, can scan up to 1,800 license plate per minute, day or night, allowing one squad car to record more than 14,000 plates during the course of a single shift.What is it with the police anymore? When did they become intelligence agents? Who wants to bet that this information isn't being fed into the NSA's databases? This stuff has gone beyond creepy.
Photographing a single license plate one time on a public city street may not seem problematic, but when that data is put into a database, combined with other scans of that same plate on other city streets, and stored forever, it can become very revealing. Information about your location over time can show not only where you live and work, but your political and religious beliefs, your social and sexual habits, your visits to the doctor, and your associations with others. And, according to recent research reported in Nature, it’s possible to identify 95% of individuals with as few as four randomly selected geospatial datapoints (location + time), making location data the ultimate biometric identifier.
I think we may have finally found the issue that joins the Dirty Fucking Hippies and the Tea Partiers in common cause. I've seen various reactions of Tea Partiers to the NSA revelations, and they mostly are in the category of righteous indignation. Perhaps their eyes are being opened a bit as they see their GOP senators gushing over how wonderful the NSA spying is in protecting us. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming weeks.