How Your Movements Are Being Tracked, Probably Without Your Knowledge
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TG: Now, how would a program like Domain Awareness work with the ALPR networks? Are there conflicts, or are they converging? How does that work? Is this all shared information?
CM: Over the past 15 years, the great technological obstacle, which has now been overcome, has been the lack of uniformity in data storage. That is to say that different systems made by different vendors held data in different ways -- much in the same way that originally Macs and Windows systems were not really compatible, but now you can run Mac software on a Windows machine and vice versa. One of the big technological challenges and goals of the government over the past 15 years has been to overcome this lack of uniformity in data storage, and they have overcome it so that the data from different manufactures can now all be combined and shared, and the issue about sharing is very substantial. So when they put this data into a warehouse, a data warehouse, who has access to it?
Documents that were secured by EPIC, the privacy non-profit, recently revealed that actually there is an arrangement whereby the customs license plate reader data is now being given or shared with private corporations like the insurance industry.
So, wondering whether every law enforcement entity has access to this is sort of a moot point when actually they have no problem providing this information to private corporations.
TG: How did that happen? What would their justification be for giving insurance companies this stuff?
CM: There’s always a justification. That’s just it. Justifications are easy to come by. The justification here is that it has a benefit to the insurance companies who themselves are trying to weed out fraudulent insurance claims, where people claim their car was stolen, but voluntarily taking it across the border to sell it, for example. You know? So what. That’s not their information to have.
Nor is it the government’s. When you aggregate this information and know, for example, who has been parked near an abortion clinic, who has attended a political organizing meeting, and for an individual, what are the chain of activities that you have engaged in? That information does not belong to the government. That is just a clear violation, an intrusion of personal privacy.
You ask, “How does this happen?” Well, it happens because they have been able to silently, quietly fund the technology. And the key to technology is that it is not physically intrusive, right? So you, I, everyone has actually had our vehicles and our movements recorded hundreds, thousands of times, and never felt it.
So it can happen silently, and that’s what they’re counting on. They’re counting on making this surveillance system a fait accompli, and then they acknowledge it after the facts are on the ground, so to speak, when it’s going to be very difficult to undo, when it is entrenched.
That’s what they’re counting on. But they’re also deeply, deeply concerned about public backlash and political response. And, in fact, there is language in the privacy report on license plate reader technology that’s put out by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, who acknowledge that the ability to roll out this technology is going to be limited by the public’s willingness to tolerate it. And so they are looking for ways to present it so that it does not create a political response.
TG: One issue that I think has come up in surveillance efforts, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in the US too, is that when they have so much information, human beings can’t really analyze it efficiently. So they’re getting these mountains and mountains of data, it’s just increasing more and more. What use is it if it’s so much that it’s hard to analyze? Are they improving on that front, as well?