New police technology in New Jersey is being used to aggressively scan and track citizens, searching for criminal and civil violations.According to this article, the Deptford PD has acquired automatic license plate scanning systems installed in police vehicles. These systems can identify thousands of license plates, whether they are parked or moving at highway speeds. If a license plate is scanned and matches any tag identified in an on board database, the police officer is instantly notified while still in close proximity to the car in question.
In a recent run through the parking lot at the Deptford mall, the system identified and flagged three stolen vehicles.
The database can be set to match any criteria. Stolen vehicles and amber alerts are just the beginning. The system can be cross referenced with DMV owner records, so that the owner of a vehicle who might have a suspended drivers license in New Jersey or out of state, or an outstanding criminal warrant, either locally, or matched with federal law enforcement databases, can be instantly identified and arrested.
Other possible uses are for locating ticket scofflaws, or even people owning municipal back taxes. Anything that can be matched to a government database can make you and your vehicle a target.
And that’s not all. Even if you have done nothing wrong, or are not wanted or suspected of anything, you are still being tracked. All of those license plate “misses” stay in the database indefinitely. Your movements can easily be tracked by anyone able to search the historical location data. Every plate tagged is matched with a time, date, and GPS location.
If you happened to be parked somewhere near where a crime was committed a month ago, you can be identified and questioned. And the data can be used in all kinds of other frightening ways. The government can make associations with other people parked near you. If there was a political event or gathering, the police can track anyone who was parked nearby, and look for patterns in the data.
And there is no way to “opt out” of this monitoring, other than not owning a car. As these systems are deployed nationwide, the amount of data and possible mining of that data will be tremendous.
Civil liberties law has not caught up to these possibilities, and it is something that everyone should be aware of. And it may be noteworthy that these plate scanners were paid for with a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Is this a long term plan for a nationwide net of federal tracking?
But in the mean time, if your driver’s license is suspended, or you accidentally missed a court date, you simply can’t expect to be able to even drive to the supermarket or mall without the police identifying you, and very likely arresting you on the spot.
Update: Another story on the scanner purchase in the Courier Post.