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CorpWatch : U.S. Government Buys Surveillance Technology To Track Drivers in Real Time

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Reprinted from www.corpwatch.org

Local government officials have the ability to track individual drivers in the U.S. in real time and take pictures of the occupants of their vehicles, with new "truly Orwellian" technology purchased from companies like Vigilant Solutions, according to new documents uncovered by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

One of the documents is a ten page U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) memo stating that the technology behind the National License Plate Reading Initiative that was launched in December 2008 allows it to capture "vehicle license plate numbers (front and/or rear), photos of visible vehicle occupants [redacted] and a front and rear overall view of the vehicle." Another May 2011 memo notes that this system has the ability to store "up to 10 photos per vehicle transaction including 4 occupant photos."

These details complement findings by the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. Department of Justice has built a secret national database to track vehicle license plates around the country that now holds "hundreds of millions of records about motorists."

While the program was originally designed to catch drug traffickers, it has now become a routine way for government agencies to find anyone that they suspect is associated with a crime. "Many state and local law-enforcement agencies are accessing the database for a variety of investigations, putting a wealth of information in the hands of local officials who can track vehicles in real time on major roadways," writes Devlin Barrett in the Journal.

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A December 2013 memo from the Milwaukee police explains how such technology works and the "standard operating procedures" for the use of the data gathered.

"(M)anufacturers and law enforcement agencies have argued that images of license plates cannot be used to identify individuals, and thus do not infringe on our individual privacy," writes Sonia Roubini of the ACLU in an article that explain the significance of the newly released memos. "This argument is thin already, but it certainly doesn't fly with regards to photographs of the driver or passengers inside of a vehicle-- especially in the era of face recognition analytics."

The ACLU says that the biggest vendor of automatic license plate recognition technology is Vigilant Solutions, based in Livermore, California. The company has been quite open about the fact that it operates the Law Enforcement Archival and Reporting Network-National Vehicle Location Service that now holds some two billion records, and adds some 100 million records every month.

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CorpWatch: Non-profit investigative research and journalism to expose corporate malfeasance and to advocate for multinational corporate accountability and transparency. We work to foster global justice, independent media activism and democratic control over corporations.

We seek to expose multinational corporations that profit from war, fraud, environmental, human rights and other abuses, and to provide critical information to foster a more informed public and an effective democracy.

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Our guiding vision is to promote human, environmental, social and worker rights at the local, national and global levels by making corporate practices more transparent and holding corporations accountable for their actions.

As independent investigative researchers and journalists, we provide critical information to foster a more informed public and an effective democracy.

We believe the actions, decisions, and policies undertaken and pursued by private corporations have very real impact on public life -- from individuals to communities around the world. Yet few mechanisms currently exist to hold them accountable for those actions. As a result, it falls to the public sphere to protect the public interest.

In many cases, corporate power and influence eclipses even the democratic
political process itself as they exert disproportional influence on public policy they deem detrimental to their narrow self-interests. In less developed nations, they usurp authority altogether, often purchasing government complicity for unfair practices at the expense of economic, environmental, human, labor and social rights. 

Yet despite the very public impact of their actions and decisions, corporations remain bound to be accountable solely to their own private financial considerations and the interests of their shareholders. They have little incentive, nor requirement, for public transparency regarding their decisions and practices, let alone concrete accountability for their ultimate impact.


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