By Doug Porter
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has released a report on the widespread use of domestic data tracking technology via automatic license plate readers. As with all such programs, potential privacy concerns have been suppressed by claims that this technology is keeping us safer.
The ACLU report doesn’t question the actual use of this technology; it focuses instead on the length of time data collected remains available to law enforcement, pointing out the poor track record governments have using this kind of information responsibly.
And it details the abuse of such data for ‘official purposes’, like spying on peaceful protesters exercising their constitutional rights, along with unofficial uses, like tracking an ex-spouse.
A report earlier this year in San Diego’s City Beat explored the local implications of license plate readers, explaining that the average vehicle in the county has been scanned an average of 14 times. All this data is shared countywide and stored in a database maintained by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). The FBI, DEA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also have access to these records.
From the City Beat story:
Police say LPR is the future of law enforcement, a Robocop-style “force multiplier” that maximizes what officers can accomplish. But privacy advocates say the sheer volume of information collected, and the indiscriminate logging of mostly innocent people’s movements, amounts to a broad system of surveillance.
“With so much data, it becomes very easy to build a composite picture of what a person is doing, and to reveal an enormous amount of personal information, simply by tracking their movements,” says David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. When police can pull up a map of your travels—visits to your church or mosque, your doctor’s office or weekly AA meeting—they have access to a great deal of sensitive information. “It becomes analogous to GPS tracking without a warrant,” Loy says.
The issue at hand here is not that this data collection is taking place; that horse left the technology barn a long time ago. The concern is how long this data is stored and what rules exist for how it gets used.
In San Diego, the answer is: indefinitely. While data is kept by SANDAG for a couple of years, the San Diego County Sheriff keeps its data “indefinitely, in a duplicate, parallel system independent of SANDAG,” according to the City Beat article.
Here’s what the ACLU says about license plate readers on the national level, via the ACLU Blog,
As it becomes increasingly clear that ours is an era of mass surveillance facilitated by ever cheaper and more powerful computing technology, it is critical we learn how this technology is being used. License plate readers are just one example of a disturbing phenomenon: the government is increasingly using new technology to collect information about all of us, all the time, and to store it forever – providing a complete record of our lives for it to access at will.
The ACLU report suggests that storage times for data not being used in criminal investigations should be measured in days or weeks, not years.
I agree with that suggestion. And I have one more, one that should apply throughout the bureaucracies charged with collecting data in the name of keeping us ‘safe’: misuse of the data needs to have nuclear consequences.
It’s day two of my Filner-less news roundups, prompted by a desire to make this website something more than All-Bob-All-The Time, and I’ve got to say it’s been tough. One more day, I keep telling myself…just.one.more.day…
More Good News About ObamaCare
Given the right’s ongoing campaign to sabotage the Affordable Healthcare Act via a thousand cuts, you can expect to see reports about what is actually going on in this column early and often.
Today’s tidbit comes via the New York Times,
Individuals buying health insurance on their own will see their premiums tumble next year in New York State as changes under thefederal health care law take effect, state officials are to announce on Wednesday.
State insurance regulators say they have approved rates for 2014 that are at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available in New York. Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to shop for health insurance for as little as $308 monthly. With federal subsidies, the cost will be even lower.
Supporters of the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act, credited the drop in rates to the online purchasing exchanges the law created, which they say are spurring competition among insurers that are anticipating an influx of new customers. The law requires that an exchange be started in every state.
New Yorkers were paying some of the highest rates in the nation, owing to a twenty year old mandate requiring companies to offer insurance to all comers, regardless of pre-existing conditions. Given the lack of a mandate, that part of ObamaCare Republicans would most like to destroy, insurance companies gleefully jacked rates up.
Today’s UT-San Diego features an editorial cartoon celebrating the delay of the ObamaCare employment mandate. Cough, cough. At least it wasn’t another caricature featuring he-who-won’t-be-named-in-this-
‘Do Not Call’ Means Make More Money
The Los Angeles Times has a column today by David Lazarus re-stating the obvious: the federal “Do Not Call” program has become a joke. There is an average of fifty prosecutions annually for violations of the law. So for big-time phone spammers, getting busted is just another cost of doing business.
From the Times:
Regardless of having registered a phone line with the Federal Trade Commission as a telemarketer-free zone, a growing number of consumers are saying that some businesses are ignoring their stated preference and calling anyway.
A particular annoyance: automated robocalls that get you on the line before looping in a human telemarketer. Such calls frequently use “spoofed” lines that hide their origin or make it look as if the call is from someone you know.
“I’ve given up answering the land line,” said Rory Johnston, 67, of Hollywood. “They’re nearly all robocalls.”
Here’s the real kicker: the phone companies love robocallers and phone spammers. First of all, the companies using ‘direct marketing’ are big customers. And the phone companies are turning around and selling blocking technology to frustrated consumers.
Verizon charges California customers $2.50 a month to block (anonymous, but not spoofed) calls. For $4 monthly you can block calls from up to a dozen local numbers, excluding ‘800’ numbers. Over at AT&T the price of blocking goes up to $7.50 per service requested, though the company told the LA Times some customers may have such services included in their plans.
BRB, the phone is ringing… “Attention, San Diego utility customers…..”
Black Bag Jobs on the Rise
For all the hand wringing that’s been done in the wake of stories about collection programs at the National Security Agency, i.e., “such disclosures are tipping off the bad guys”, the untold part of this story is that the “bad guys” figured out what was going on with their cellphones and internet accounts years ago.
Over the past decade specially-trained CIA clandestine operators have mounted over one hundred extremely sensitive black bag jobs designed to penetrate foreign government and military communications and computer systems, as well as the computer systems of some of the world’s largest foreign multinational corporations. Spyware software has been secretly planted in computer servers; secure telephone lines have been bugged; fiber optic cables, data switching centers and telephone exchanges have been tapped; and computer backup tapes and disks have been stolen or surreptitiously copied in these operations.
In other words, the CIA has become instrumental in setting up the shadowy surveillance dragnet that has now been thrown into public view. Sources within the U.S. intelligence community confirm that since 9/11, CIA clandestine operations have given the NSA access to a number of new and critically important targets around the world, especially in China and elsewhere in East Asia, as well as the Middle East, the Near East, and South Asia.
On This Day: 1945 – President Truman, Soviet leader Josef Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill began meeting at Potsdam in the final Allied summit of World War II. 1954 – The first Newport Jazz Festival was held at the Newport Casino, in Newport, RI. 1955 – Disneyland opened in Anaheim, CA.
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