Friends and readers,
A story on May 8, 2014 in the Alexandria Gazette (of all places, I hardly ever look at this local newspaper, but perhaps I should start) about the uses to which license plates on cars may be put, caught my eye. The DMV is a central supplier and user of such numbers and letters. We are observing the use of computer flashes on license plates to gather information on everyone in a catchment area and save it for years and make people out driving subject to police out driving or sitting in front of a computer in an office.
It seems that since the computer flash system which allows police to monitor everyone’s license plates that they have a record of, Alexandria City police have been collecting and storing license plate numbers on a large database for more than 2 years. Everyone’s. Your license by a search engine can lead the person searching about you to find much much more information about you quickly, from finances, to schooling, to personal information.
Several organizations have protested mightily; among them the ACLU is named. As a result, the police have now agreed only to save data for six months and then to delete whatever they can know about an individual from the license plate. It appears that this police group were “a pioneer in this technology” and the first license plates were those the police supposedly had a legitimate reason to store — like say the crimeless crime I am apparently guilty of (a transient loss of consciousness the result of exhaustion and grief was the conclusion, highly unlikely to happen again was the medical report and doctors’ conclusions); but then they branched out to everyone and then started to keep the information for long periods of time. From the story it’s not clear at all what are the legitimate reasons that lead the police to save a person’s license plate in this special database, nor that the police are for sure deleting the information on all license plates every six months. According to the ACLU spokesperson, the practice itself (in the first place) is illegal and could be found to be unconstitutional. It’s expensive to go to court and everyone involved may be afraid they’ll lose? At any rate I could find no mention of a court suit going forward.
Apparently th0se organizations protesting could get no one to pay attention — nothing in the news at all — until Edward Snowden released his information about omnipresent NSA spying on everyone they conceivably can; that at that time “the benchmark” was 4 years — date on everyone would be kept for 4 years. Now it seems some limited control on this kind of behavior has been put in place. Of course the police have argued this kind of data collection helps them find criminals — and present ambiguous data to show some “catches” in limited situations.
If anyone reading this thinks that most people are actuated in their use of information about other people as a result of general ideology, public service or abstract principles, he or she needs to think some more. The careful reporters (wary, protecting their jobs) label the story, “how long is too long” as if that is the only issue of concern.