Surveillance, tracking, and spying have really summed up the recent months in the United States. Phone calls, online messaging, department store personalizing, and, lest we forget, this guy's whole story have dominated news headlines. Well, folks, the ACLU thinks it's time to tack vehicle records on to the list.
But the truth is, police have been scanning its citizens forever. That's their job. Only now they're just doing it in a more sophisticated fashion — and that's what's unnerving.
The American Civil Liberties Union published a study on Wednesday attacking various law enforcement agencies across the country for their use of automated scanners to compile millions of digital images and data on the location and movement of all vehicles with a license plate. The study highlighted that in the state of Maryland alone, police scanners attached to cop cars, bridges, and buildings read about 29 million plates between the months of January and May of last year, of which only about 60,000 —–or roughly one in every 500 plates — were suspicious or guilty of an infraction. The study listed the petty infractions of suspended registrations and violations of the state's emissions inspection program as the number 1 crimes connected to the tracking program — accounting for over 97% of all alerts. Staff attorney with the ACLU Catherine Crump called the tracking tactics "dragnet surveillance systems" and proposed that police departments across the nation immediately delete any records of cars not linked to a crime.
Harvey E. Esienberg, assistant U.S. attorney from Maryland, rebutted the civil liberties group's stark statistical accusations by pointing to 132 wanted suspects that the program helped track during that same time frame from January to May. Furthermore, the executive forces plea that the program does more on a qualitative scale to help their terrorist and criminal detection efforts than raw statistics may suggest.
Obviously, this entire situation is only fueling the ever-burning fire of fear culture in this nation: scare the citizens with terrorist threats to qualify reducing their liberties in the name of safety. Yes. But I would be hard pressed to say that this surveillance is anything incredibly unique to what police forces have been doing since their inception.
When you drive down the highway, cops post up on the side of road and check license plates. When you park at a meter, cops patrol the streets checking license plates. This isn't new. This what we pay them to do. The main difference now is that, with their more efficient machines, police force officials are able to gather more data and hold onto said data for (much) longer periods of time. Which, again, can be unnerving.
But what about when a crime erupts? Part of what linked ex-Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez to Odin Lloyd's death was traffic surveillance videotape. Similar cameras helped to unfold the Boston Bombings story. No one police officer would have been able to retain as much memory as a camera and computer, obviously — so do we allow the good of this tracking to outweigh the bad? I say yes, hesitantly, only because police scanning will never end, its manifestation will only change. And, if you're a law-abiding driver and citizen, you don't have anything more to worry about than you would without the various camera programs.
What do you say? Big Brother or an acceptable sophisticated surveillance system?
Let us know in the comments below.