by Brian A. Wilkins
Have you ever been driving down a highway, not speeding, or violating any other law, but been pulled over anyway, and the cop tells you it is because you don’t have insurance on your vehicle? Or because you have a warrant out for your arrest for an unpaid traffic ticket from 5 years ago in a different state? Have you ever legally parked your car in a large parking lot with thousands of vehicles in it, only to return with a yellow boot on one of your wheels, or police waiting to arrest you because of unpaid parking tickets? If any of this pertains to you, your question probably is, “how did they know about this stuff without asking me?” Or “how can a cop car driving 70 mph on a freeway with hundreds of other cars driving on it pull me over and know I have no insurance on my car immediately?” The answer is one of the more scary acronyms American citizens are now faced with in yet more government policies taking our civil liberties and rights to privacy away from us: A.L.P.R.
A.L.P.R. stands for automated license plate recognition. Some police jurisdictions call it something different, like AVI (automatic vehicle indentification), CPR (car plate recognition), or LPR (license plate recognition). No matter the nomenclature, A.L.P.R. is a mass surveillance system that uses optical character recognition on images to read license plates on vehicles. These very high-tech cameras installed in police cars are capable of scanning license plates at a rate of one per second (or 3600 per hour), on cars traveling up to 100 miles/hour. And with databases now measured in terabytes (1024 gigs = 1 terabyte), the U.S. government, even if police do not pull you over, can now track your every move, as each of these images is stored for eternity, whether tied to a criminal investigation or not. But don’t just take my word for it. Watch the video below, which will likely make your stomach hurt.
The original intent of these spy toys was noble: to track stolen vehicles and, especially in border states, watch for coyotes bringing illegal immigrants into the country. But the fact is since former President George W. Bush started a pattern of Big Brother-like surveillance with his so-called “Patriot Act,” data and technology companies have flourished and our privacy as citizens has diminished. We are already to a point that every American citizen who has been outdoors in a large metropolitan area, has had their faces encoded like a UPC symbol on a box of cereal. Your face alone can now be used as an open book to your life. Casinos were the first to use this so-called “face recognition software,” but even with the inaccuracies and unreliability of the software, it may not be long before all Motor Vehicle Divisions with all our driver license photos join the party of mass surveillance in the USA.
So I guess the question people may have is, what can you do about all this government spying to help preserve your right to privacy? With things like Google Earth being able to zoom into your bedroom windows and information-technology corporations acting as facilitators for federal government agencies to read your emails and listen to your phone calls, there isn’t much you can do outside of move to a remote rural area or out of the country. But as far as your automobile and license plate, there is this spray called Photo Blocker that you can coat your license plate with to create too much of a glare for the infrared cameras to get a good picture of the numbers on the plate (note: this is why most states outlaw license plate covers of any kind). But the reviews of this product are mixed and I’ve heard from current and former cops that aerosol hairspray or WD40 will work too if you’re in a crunch.
George W. Bush destroyed the world as we once knew it in a matter of eight years, but he was apparently right about one declaration he made in his tenure: saying the U.S. Constitution is “just a goddamn piece of paper.” Based on this Oceania direction our country is taking, its hard to argue that point.