July 19, 2013

you’re on LPR….

At first it was annoying, a state which rapidly morphed into a more intense but less focused set of responses. It wasn’t long before I found myself being clearly pissed off. I got over it though, and now I am simply alarmed.

As a lifelong contrarian, I’m usually pretty quick to jump on an opportunity to expound upon the sins of government and the transgressions of humanity in general, so I initially sensed “Hog Heaven” when the NSA surveillance item surfaced alongside the DNA sample collection issue, and the IRS got caught Hunting Conservatives out of Season. The pickings have been lucrative. In addition to the serial incidents of inappropriate governmental groping, the PC police have been hard at work washing errant folks’ mouths out with litigation, and the whole thing has begun to elicit offhand references to late-onset 1984. As with most icebergs and political eyebrow raisers, however, there was more to come. For the “film at eleven” piece………

The latest Mot du Jour has been the revelation that DashCam Mania has come to the nations law enforcement world in conjunction with the development of private sector enterprises to build and maintain gigantic (read infinite) databases from digital recordings of license plates. And you thought the little camera at the turnpike toll booth set up to nail those who would screw the state out of a quarter was Orwellian! Police departments, mostly in densely populated areas thus far, have begun to equip squad cars with devices that record every license plate encountered, at random. As with NSA’s “golly gee whiz, we’re just lookin’ fer bad guys” reaction to having the spotlight flipped aground and pointed at them, the suits wandering around Walmart with mirrors on their shoes, etcetera, are coming up with all sorts of justifications for their hobby of collecting data-bags about virtually everybody who happens to come within range of a lens, tap, bug, wire, or some nosy little shit sitting in front of a computer bank trying to figure out what you have in your refrigerator.

Let’s face it. “Big Brother” was a piker, but only because he predated the Digital Revolution. The thought was there.

The spate of news stories of late exposing various ways people are creating to spy on each other, often ostensibly for no particular reason beyond “just in case”, reveals a disturbing trend that has been developing behind the scenes for several years now. Public complacency, and no small amount of self absorption as that sector remains mesmerized with its own latest digi-gadgets, translated into nobody looking over the shoulders of the ones looking over our shoulders.

Don’t bellow “BUSTED!” quite yet. Think “iceberg”.

In addition to the interest law enforcement and government have apparently taken in globally attaching secret data-sucks to everybody for no reason beyond the same one that explains why your dog licks itself at inopportune times, the private sector has been exploring ways to make a living playing the same game. Several mysterious entities collect data from License Plate Reader systems (LPR) every day, everywhere, enabling anyone who has access to the databanks to develop profiles based upon how often selected subjects pop up. Tow trucks, security vehicles, toll booths, and parking lots use the LPR units to help identify and locate persons of interest not only for law enforcement entities but also for debt collection firms, for example.

On the one hand, this activity is not surprising, and in fact may even sound like a good idea. Men have always jumped on new ideas and technologies to achieve various goals in their daily activities, so why not? The answer doesn’t lie in the technology, but in the realm of social and personal “boundaries”, and thus we have dealt with similar dilemmas many times in the past. The Puritans of the seventeenth century became notoriously intrusive and controlling in their attempts to enforce certain religion based lifestyle and behavioral mandates, but their “technology” was limited to peeking through windows or knocking on doors to make sure people were in church when they were supposed to be.

In any event, it is troubling that so much is surfacing all of a sudden to give the average citizen cause to wonder what and who might be recording their movements and activities at any given time. However, I’m not as concerned about the objectionable issues of which I am aware as I am about the potential for extreme abuse in the future.

The lollipop offered to those who complain or express alarm about these data hoards and their keepers is the age old sop that they are only looking for “bad guys” or, “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”

Define “wrong”.

Now, define what “wrong” will mean next week, next year, in twenty years.

In some countries today, it is a crime to criticize the government. It is not in this country, but it is easy to see how definitions and arbitrary parameters can be adjusted to put the squeeze on a persona non grata. For example, opinions vary about whether Edward Snowden is a traitor or a hero. Don’t laugh. George Washington and the boys were “traitors” in 1776. Imagine applying today’s technology to such past issues as J. Edgar Hoover’s questionable activities as he built the FBI, McCarthy’s anti-communism paranoia, or more recently, the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration. At any given time, driven by any one of an infinite number of potential circumstances, virtually anything imaginable could be redefined as “wrong” to varying degrees.

This is not necessarily new territory, but the rapid fire advances in technology we are witnessing, combined with the redefinition of “boundaries” and privacy, and the fact that we have already tripped over several previously unknown, government sanctioned, “snooping” activities, is a wake up call. We need to establish limits and restrictions NOW on what kind of intrusions we are willing to tolerate.

I recommend the bar be set very, very high.


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