Big Brother Eyeballing Your License Plate?

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Soon, cops may not even have to pull you over to know almost everything about you – and keep it on file, too.

Motorola – manufacturer of radio equipment and other cop stuff – has developed automated license plate scanners that can ID you (and note your exact location at that moment) at the blink of an electronic eye. Fitted to a cop car, the plate scanners eyeball every passing vehicle, using the license plate number to cross-reference electronic records for such things as outstanding warrants, stolen vehicle reports – potentially, anything that can be tied via the license plate number to a vehicle and thus, to its registered owner.

Motorola says its readers can scan 5,000 plates during the typical eight-hour police shift. That’s just one car, mind you. If every cop car in a given jurisdiction had the scanners, an electronic dragnet would make it very easy to scan almost every vehicle not locked up in a walled private garage.

So is it a good thing – or a bad thing?

There’s no denying the technology would make it a lot easier to identify stolen cars, say – and presumably cuff and stuff the thieves, too.

But the technology has a Dark Side, too.

For one, scanning random vehicles amounts to yet another diminishment of whatever’s left of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantees against warrantless (and unreasonable) searches. If the scanners become ubiquitous you may expect to be ubiquitously scanned, anywhere, anytime – for literally no reason whatsoever other than you happen to be outside of your home.

Civil libertarians note that the scanners do not merely passively search for specific vehicles (plates) that are tied to, say, an outstanding warrant. They monitor and record all vehicles. They also jot down (electronically) the date, time and location your vehicle (and thus, you) were scanned into the system. Which is both creepy and raises a legal issue – maybe several of them. Will an estranged spouse be able to deploy such records in a divorce proceeding to establish proof of infidelity? Will the state authorities provide information about your comings and goings to insurance companies, possibly to be used against you – or as the basis for “adjusting” your premium?

The ACLU argues:

License plate readers raise serious privacy concerns because of the system’s ability to monitor and track the movements of all vehicles, including those registered to people who are not suspected of any crime. Without restrictions, law enforcement agencies can and do store the data gathered by the license plate readers forever, allowing them to monitor where you have been and when you traveled there over an extended period of time. In fact, a key selling point for vendors is the system’s ability to track drivers.” (Italics added for emphasis.)

Of course, cell phones already do much the same thing – but there is an important difference: The cops still have to get a court order to obtain the information obtained and stored by cell phone providers. With plate readers, even that flimsy protection would evaporate.

Indeed, Motorola touts (in its product literature) something called – fittingly enough – BOSS, or Back Office Systems Software. What does BOSS do? Just what you’d expect a BOSS to do, of course:

“Plate readers can generate vast amounts of data: database, GPS coordinates, time of day, photographs, plate numbers and more. Back at headquarters, BISS turns this data into useful intelligence… users can query the data using multiple search parameters including time, date, full or partial plate, location and user. BOSS can also map all locations related to a single plate to track vehicle movements. The BOSS web interface allows data to be easily shared across multiple locations and agencies.” (Italics added for emphasis.)

Some will say, well – so what? Isn’t it a good thing that new technologies will make it easier to identify and catch no-good-niks, from parking ticket scofflaws to carjackers?

No doubt. Just as tossing whatever remains of the Fourth Amendment into the shredder – and giving, say, the IRS open-door, unlimited, anytime access to all homes, private correspondence, records, etc., would likewise make it more efficient at catching tax-evaders.

But, do you want to trust the government – that is, government agents (cops and otherwise) – with unchecked, unlimited, global power to inspect, snoop, interrogate, store, pore-over and otherwise monitor your entire life? And for no particular reason at all? Just because it’s possible? Is making it easier for them to catch a few more bad guys worth the price of all of us reduced to being treated as though we are bad guys, too – and presumptively?

No question, the pre- sicherheit state was less orderly – and so easier for the no-good-niks to fade into the background.

But if you’re old enough to remember what it was like, it wasn’t a half-bad place to live….


  1. North of Melbourne we have several speed cameras on the main highway. These are point-to-point, meaning, either they get you for speeding immediately or calculate the time it took to get to the next cam and do you for your average speed being over the limit.

    These all using plate recog tech of course.

    About a year ago, I passed a cop car in average traffic using this system. My car was “unregistered”, or so they thought. A bit further up the road was another cop car trying to wave me down. Obviously the system flagged me and the cop radioed his buddy. Well..

    I didn’t bother to stop. I made the cop get in his car, hammer up the road at breakneck speed and try to pull me over. I purposely dragged it out for a couple of k’s.

    I feigned that I had a nasty flu and didn’t see the cop, which worked. Then he fined me for “unregistered”. That’s ok, I was happy I could fuck their little snatch and grab operation for a whole 30 minutes.

    The fine was easy fucked up too. You see, the Australian Constitution has a part called The Imperial Acts Application Act, where S.8(12) reads:

    That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction, are illegal and void“.

    Very few know of this or how to fight it. So I left it until I got all the usual “reminder” notices and eventually, the best one of all – an enforcement order from the Infringements Court – a computer court. This has a few LAWFUL ramifications:

    1. You cannot lawfully be convicted by a computer.

    2. The Infringements Court is Unconstitutional on the grounds that the Infringement’s Registrar is required to accept, as fact, the submissions of the issuing agency. However, this would place the court outside of its bounds of duty.

    5. The act of the Infringement Registrar taking on board allegations of the issuing agency and issuing an Enforcement Order is a violation of the separation of powers of the legislators (Parliament), the executives (Government) and the judiciary (Courts).

    3. The Infringements Registrar is not a judge, and therefore cannot enforce any such order. They mention on the paperwork when you request a revocation that they have no power to revoke such orders, so they can’t even enforce one to begin with!

    4. Now for the biggie, the ruling of Justice Latham in the Uniform Tax Case in the High Court of Australia: “Common expressions such as: ‘The Courts have declared a statute invalid’, sometimes lead to misunderstanding. A pretend law made in excess of power is not and never has been a law at all. Anybody in the country is entitled to disregard it. Naturally, he will feel safer if he has a decision of a court in his favour, but such a decision is not an element that produces invalidity in any law. The law is not valid until a court pronounces against it – and thereafter invalid. If it is beyond power it is void ab initio – Uniform Tax Case HCA (High Court of Australia) 1942 (65 CLR 373 at 408).

    There’s even more I threw at it, such as that vehicles are NEVER unregistered, just that their status is changed, so the charge of “unregistered” is incorrect. Eventually the charge was withdrawn. Fuck ’em and fuck ’em hard 🙂

  2. Awesome, I’m thinking about just writing down my schedule and all the locations and people I visit and just emailing it to the government. Don’t worry, if I decide to make a change in my schedule I’ll be sure to notify you! Wait, I don’t need to? You guys are going to just monitor my moments without my help? Sweet! Well, is there anything else I can do to help? Ya’ll don’t have a mind thought reader yet do you? No, oh okay. Tell you what, when I have any bad/negative thoughts I will document them and email them to you. If they are really bad I will just report to the station and let you arrest my ass. Thanks for diminishing my rights down to nothingness. I’m too stupid to appreciate them anyhow.


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