The report, You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to Record Americans’ Movements,” (.pdf) paints, for the first time, a broad, Orwellian picture of an often overlooked and growing feature of the surveillance — one funded, in part, by $50 million in federal grants to local governments during the past five years.
The autonomous readers — small cameras affixed to police vehicles, light poles, bridges, street signs, buildings, you name it — chronicle a vehicle’s whereabouts to the second. Only a fraction of photos provide an immediate “hit” matching the vehicle to a crime. At least one town, the affluent San Francisco suburb of Tiburon, has cameras operating on the only road leading into and out of town. Nationwide, the authorities and even private enterprise maintain a trove of locational data on citizens’ movements, according to the report.
Data from these cameras, according to the report, “is being placed into databases, and is sometimes pooled into regional sharing systems. As a result, enormous databases of motorists’ location information are being created. All too frequently, these data are retained permanently and shared widely with few or no restrictions on how they can be used.”