As technology progresses, society finds many new ways to integrate it into daily living. While this kind of progress often offers many benefits, including efficiency, one of its biggest drawbacks is how these uses tend to infringe upon personal privacy.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently challenging one such use of technology. At present, police agencies across the United States are tracking the license plates of drivers completely through automation. The ACLU is advocating regulation of this use of technology.
While initially used as a way to solve crimes or do comparison checks for law enforcement purposes, police across the country are now storing information on every car’s information in a “massive database,” according to the ACLU. This includes millions of Americans “stretching back for months or even years,” said the ACLU in a blog post.
The organization looked at over 26,000 pages of documents obtained through freedom of information (FOIA) requests. These documents contained information from approximately 600 police departments located in 38 states and Washington, D.C.
The ACLU identified some key issues in this type of data collection:
• Information is being tracked on innocent people, not just those suspected of crimes.
• This data can be used indefinitely and can morph into highlighting information that most people would consider as an infringement on their privacy. It “morphs into a powerful tracking tool” and people should be worried.
• There is no consistency or established regulations on how long data is kept. Some departments keep it for only a few hours; others are storing it far longer—years and beyond.
“Although you can’t tell immediately that someone is committing a crime, some of those people may well be doing something wrong, goes the argument. But in our society, the government doesn’t watch all of us all the time just in case we commit a crime,” the ACLU said in its blog post.
After the information was analyzed, the ACLU published a report entitled, “You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to Record Americans’ Movements.” This report is described as going into much more detail regarding the issues tracking technologies create.
It appears license plate tracking is perhaps another example of how today’s society is moving further and further away from an “innocent until proven guilty” mindset.
While this theoretically is still the law, as technology is more heavily used as a tracking tool by the government, and even by commercial businesses, we have steadily moved to a society that is constantly scrutinized and under surveillance.
And for what reason? Just because it’s technologically possible? Not to mention with each massive database created with a wealth of information, these digital storage bins also become attractive targets for hackers.
“Private companies are also using license plate readers and sharing the information they collect with police with little or no oversight or privacy protections. A lack of regulation means that policies governing how long our location data is kept vary widely,” the ACLU said, reported CNN.
Technology moves far more swiftly than any law and unfortunately, this often creates a situation where individual privacy continues to erode at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, license plate trackers are only one example of how this occurs on a daily basis without people even knowing they are being watched.
In the end, it always goes back to the same basic question: just because we can, does it mean we should?