Sunday, September 20, 2015

#263 / Expectations

Scott Herhold, columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, has come out strongly against having garbage trucks take pictures of the license plates of all the cars they pass, as the trucks drive along their normal, garbage collection routes. According to Herhold, this idea "doesn't pass the smell test." You can read his thoughts by clicking this link

San Jose Mayor San Liccardo is quoted by Herhold as saying, "there is no expectation of privacy on a public street." The Mayor is right, of course, both factually and legally. The courts have consistently held that no one should expect that his or her activities have any claim to "privacy," if the person's activities are observable from a public space. 

So, what's the problem with electronic license plate readers as the newest tool against crime? Johnny Khamis, the San Jose City Council Member who authored the garbage truck proposal, said he "got this idea from a police captain, and I thought it was a great idea."

The American Civil Liberties Union has written a very comprehensive analysis of what is wrong with using license plate scanners as an ordinary tool of law enforcement. The problem is the comprehensive nature of the information gathered, and the fact that the information, once gathered, is available to the government forever. 

If a police officer in a cruiser (or a garbage truck) passes a car parked in front of a downtown building, that fact is definitely "observable" from a public space. No problem there. What is NOT "observable," at the time the cruiser (or the garbage truck) passes the parked vehicle, is the facts about where that vehicle has parked before. In other words, the high technology camera/computer systems that comprise this newest law enforcement tool are not based on what is observable on a street, because our observations are all time-related.

What electronic license plate readers do, when utilized using modern "big data" computer systems, is to give the government a complete history of everywhere that vehicle has been, starting from the time when the system first becomes operational. 

This comprehensive inventory of everyone's movements, cataloguing them forever, is the very definition of totalitarianism. It is NOT our expectation that the government will instantly have, every time they see us, a complete record of everywhere we have ever been. But, that kind of personal information is exactly what these license plate reader systems are designed to provide to the government. 

Read the ALCU publication, You Are Being Tracked

I think you'll come down on Herhold's side!

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  1. One of the national trends we see evident in San Cruz, in addition to increasing military technology is Predictive Policing, the use of "advanced technological tools and data analysis to take proactive measures to “pre-empt” crime." (

    “All the computer takes into effect are actual incidents that have occurred and have been reported…It really doesn’t know anything about the demographics of individuals that live in that area, what the economic statuses of these individuals are, or anything about the person. It’s all area-specific.” Santa Cruz, CA Police Department Deputy Chief Steve Clark (Al Jazeera America, September 15, 2013)

    It's only a small step to add license plate scanning data to the Predictive Policing databank to activate a Total Information Awareness ( in Our Fair City and County.

    It matters not whether such a network is in operation now. The capability is there, to be activated at moments notice, in response to a "crisis," local, regional or national.

    Totalitarianism need not arrive in a glorious revolution, an armed insurrection or an invasion from another country. The most dangerous form of totalitarianism is that which slips in unannounced, promoted by seemingly well meaning politicians and local officials, accepted and encouraged by the citizenry as necessary and desirable to promote safety and security.

    "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Thomas Jefferson and others

    "Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Benjamin Franklin


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