If you’re on the road, the government likely knows where. Surveillance of drivers is increasing, and appears legal
If you’re traveling on public roadways in 2012, there’s a very good chance you’re being watched, by one government agency or another. License plate readers (LPRs) are proliferating at a rapid clip, and they’re being used by law enforcement at virtually every level of government.
Once used mostly by local cops to catch car thieves and unregistered drivers, LPR systems have morphed into what privacy activists call an increasingly pervasive network of mass surveillance. Databases all over the country maintained by local police departments – and now federal agencies too — contain hundreds of millions of location scans, and provide a searchable record of the movements of all kinds of drivers, from murderers to pizza delivery guys, and from soccer moms to serial rapists.
The inconspicuous devices are sometimes installed at fixed points, as the DEA has been doing in several border states, but they’re most often mounted on local police cruisers, where they automatically scan and record every license plate that comes within range of their optical sensor.
When they pass an LPR-equipped police car, drivers both innocent and guilty have their whereabouts recorded and tagged with GPS coordinates, along with a color photo and a time stamp. The resulting information is often kept for years, allowing law enforcement to engage in a kind of retroactive surveillance to find out who was where, and at what time.
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