Well here we go. A few days ago, Ars Technica spotted a listing on a federal government website, explaining that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is looking for a vendor who can assemble for them a database that brings together data from the all the license plate cameras that more and more police departments across the country are installing. You don't like the fact that the government has a file somewhere listing every call you've made on your cell phone? How do you feel about them knowing everywhere you've driven?
We're not quite there yet, but all that's needed for this to become a truly national database is the installation of more license plate cameras, and lots of storage, since these cameras capture billions of pieces of information. In other words, it's a piece of cake. You might or might not love your next laptop more than the one you have now, but it's a stone-cold guarantee that it'll have a faster processor and a bigger hard drive. That's just how things will continue to progress. There are approximately zero meaningful technological hurdles to the creation and use of this kind of system. More police departments are installing the cameras all the time, each one making the idea of a national system more compelling to law enforcement.
It isn't hard to imagine useful applications for this technology. An abusive father kidnaps his kids from his ex-wife, and the system enables law enforcement officials to track his movements and catch him before he can harm them. A man kills his business partner, then claims he was nowhere near the crime scene; the system proves his car drove past the victim's apartment near the time of death. At some point, there will be a high-profile, lurid crime whose perpetrator is apprehended through the use of the license-plate camera database. And then, watch out.
ICE told the Washington Post, "It is important to note that this database would be run by a commercial enterprise, and the data would be collected and stored by the commercial enterprise, not the government." Is that better than letting every intern in Homeland Security pull up his girlfriend's records to see where she went that weekend when he was out of town? Of course. Although one of the big companies in this growth sector is named Vigilant Solutions, which totally sounds like a bunch of folks who are deeply concerned about your privacy. But the more comprehensive the system gets, the stronger the pull will be to give more agencies access to it. The FBI would sure like to use it for their investigations. Think the NSA is interested?
As Conor Friedersdorf says, "private industry is already collecting this information. Depending on where you live, it's very likely they've captured your movements on many occasions. The information resides indefinitely on a hard drive somewhere." Now imagine that it doesn't matter where you live anymore—unless you're in a remote rural area, your trips are being logged. It'll happen before you know it.
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