The Center for Investigative Reporting informs us that California is using license plate readers to photograph and record data about people's cars, which information is then loaded into a database that can be accessed by local, state and federal law enforcement.
The license plate readers are also being mounted on patrol cars, so they can monitor your license plates even in your driveway.
At a rapid pace, and mostly hidden from the public, police agencies throughout California have been collecting millions of records on drivers and feeding them to intelligence fusion centers operated by local, state and federal law enforcement.
With heightened concern over secret intelligence operations at the National Security Agency, the localized effort to track drivers highlights the extent to which the government has committed to collecting large amounts of data on people who have done nothing wrong.
A year ago, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center – one of dozens of law enforcement intelligence-sharing centers set up after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – signed a $340,000 agreement with the Silicon Valley firm Palantir to construct a database of license-plate records flowing in from police using the devices across 14 counties, documents and interviews show.
The extent of the center’s data collection has never been revealed. Neither has the involvement of Palantir, a Silicon Valley firm with extensive ties to the Pentagon and intelligence agencies. The CIA’s venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel, has invested $2 million in the firm.
The jurisdictions supplying license-plate data to the intelligence center stretch from Monterey County to the Oregon border. According to contract documents, the database will be capable of handling at least 100 million records and be accessible to local and state law enforcement across the region.
Law enforcement agencies throughout Northern California will be able to access the data, as will state and federal authorities.
In the Bay Area, at least 32 government agencies use license-plate readers. The city of Piedmont decided to install them along the border with Oakland, and the Marin County enclave of Tiburon placed plate scanners and cameras on two roads leading into and out of town.
Law enforcement agencies throughout the region also have adopted the technology. Police in Daly City, Milpitas and San Francisco have signed agreements to provide data from plate readers to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. A Piedmont document indicates that city is also participating, along with Oakland, Walnut Creek, Alameda and the California Highway Patrol.
Katz-Lacabe, who was featured in a Wall Street Journal story last year, said he believes the records of his movements are too revealing for someone who has done nothing wrong. With the technology, he said, “you can tell who your friends are, who you hang out with, where you go to church, whether you’ve been to a political meeting.”
The scary part is that since we are creatures of habit, we develop patterns in our travels. This system would allow police to easily spot vehicles that venture out of normal routine. In fact, it could be programmed to automatically log vehicles that deviate from a certain routine, or track the movements of a given vehicle. I agree with Glenn Reynolds that this system will probably be used more often to stalk spouses or girlfriends/boyfriends than actual, legitimate law enforcement purposes.
Moving on, Judicial Watch reports that "it has obtained records from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) revealing that the agency has spent millions of dollars for the warrantless collection and analysis of Americans’ financial transactions. The documents also reveal that CFPB contractors may be required to share the information with 'additional government entities.'"
So, if you travel to a Tea Party activity, or donate to a Tea Party group, don't be surprised if the IRS audits you.