Feds aggregating license-plate scans to track vehicles and people in real time

We’ve talked a lot about government surveillance and control of air travelers, and occasionally about its extension to bus and train travel. (Our FOIA request about this to Amtrak remains unanswered and several months overdue for a response.)
But can you avoid being tracked and watched by the government if you travel by private car? No:
A year ago, when the Department of Homeland Security cancelled a request for bids from commercial vendors to supply vehicle location logs compiled from automated (optical character recognition) license-plate readers, we pointed out that the DHS didn’t need to buy this information from commercial data aggregators, since it already had it available from government sources. In fact, as we noted then, the DHS had already given official notice of the inclusion of license-plate location logs in DHS databases about both US and foreign citizens (while claiming that a license plate number isn’t a ‘personal identifier’.
New documents released to the ACLU in response to FOIA requests and reported by the Wall Street Journal (paywalled article; NPR interview with the WSJ reporter on the story) confirm our suspicions: As early as 2009, a ‘National LPR Initiative’ was compiling data from license-plate readers operated by the DHS and other Federal, state, and local government agencies to track both vehicles and their occupants in real time.

This post was published at Papers Please on February 6th, 2015.

 

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