If You Have a License Plate, You're Going To Be Tracked


Face it. I'm the problem.

Not long ago, I mentioned that the DEA wants to decorate highways with scanners that automatically record our license plates and, over time, can track our movements They can even be set to issue robo-warnings to interested parties when sought-after plate numbers come into view. What I didn't know then is that a California company has been compiling a massive database of vehicle movements that it makes available to police agencies — and that, really, the cat is just out of the friggin' bag.

According to CaliforniaWatch:

Capitalizing on one of the fastest-growing trends in law enforcement, a private California-based company has compiled a database bulging with more than 550 million license-plate records on both innocent and criminal drivers that can be searched by police. …

While privacy rules restrict what police can do with their own databases, Vigilant Video, headquartered in Livermore, Calif., offers a loophole. It's a private business not required to operate by those same rules.

The company sells its own brand of license-plate readers and has customers around the nation, including in Springfield, Ill.; Kings Point, N.Y.; and Orange, Conn. But Vigilant distinguished itself from competitors by going one step further and collecting hundreds of millions of scans to create what's known as the National Vehicle Location Service.

I should add that those "privacy rules" are really just departmental policies, and lots of departments have been buying the scanners without bothering with policies of any sort for using the accumulated data. The Washington Post reported last November that "Police departments are grappling with how long to store the information and how to balance privacy concerns against the value the data provide to investigators."

The nature of that "grappling" might best be revealed by the reaction to a now-dead California bill that would have limited to 60 days the length of time license plate data could be retained, whether gathered by police or private companies. The bill's author, Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), told CaliforniaWatch that he was swamped by law-enforcement opposition.

"Essentially, law enforcement's argument was, 'We think private-sector entities ought to be able to stockpile information on law-abiding citizens, and that information should be available to law enforcement upon request without a warrant or any probable cause,' "

Vigilant Video maintains a fleet of 2,000 scout cars on the road recording license plates, and "1,200 new law enforcement users were being signed up to use the system every month" in addition to law enforcement's own data-gathering efforts. Then there are the DEA cameras which, being federal, wouldn't be restricted by a state law like Simitian's anyway.

And, frankly, government officials have proven to be creative in interpreting laws that restrict their retention of sensitive data that they think might, someday, come in handy.

Basically, technology has progressed to the point where having identifying data fastened in plain view on a vehicle almost inevitably subjects us to tracking. Getting rid of those damned plates would be a strong step toward regaining some privacy, but it ain't gonna happen anytime soon. If only there were some creative way of substituting fake plates for the real thing …

NEXT: Washington's Parasitic Economy with The Weekly Standard's Andrew Ferguson

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  1. Only a tinfoil hat wearing paranoid person could think that this information could be abused.

    1. “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear!”

  2. They can already track you with an EZpass if you have one. For the really paranoid I believe those tire pressure sensors that most new cars have use RFID chips. Not to mention your cell phone tracks you… all in the name of your safety of course.

    1. RFID can only broadcast a single – coded piece of data. For example an account number or a product id. You can’t change what the RFID chip broadcasts unless you change the chip. What are people worried about a possible RFID chip in a TPMS system? Do they think the road or something is monitoring their vehicle id as it drives or something? Get all tinfoil-hatty while they have a smartphone in their pocket…that ACTUALLY is tracking them.

      1. the same morons who routinely offer fantasies about what COULD happen with their privacy, are the ones who continuously broadcast their position to private companies via GPS enabled smart phones and routinely broadcast their position and nearly every movement they make to facebook pages.

        we’ve had some pretty good successes convicting bragging gangbangers based on their facebook and god forbid myspace posts, especially after friending them with spoof gangbanger accounts.

        of course this is the same mentality we saw with 2pac coming on yo mtv raps and bragging (and incriminating himself) about recent assaults he had committed, and yes it was used against him in court.

        these criminals are so often their own worst enemy

        1. Well then, what do you need *more* tracking for?

    2. The tire RFID would be kinda pointless unless you can get your tire company to upload the 4 new RFID ID’s everytime you change tires.

      And they don’t use RFID anyway, as there’s no way to change what is broadcast when the chip is scanned. They have a small battery, radio, and pressure sensor.

  3. I wonder what they’ll think when criminal organizations subscribe to this information and use it to track police movements.

    1. so the glass is half full?

    2. You mean government isn’t a criminal organization?

    3. But they simply have to cross reference the DMV database with their plates and they WON’T be tracing police movements – you know to protect the undercover people and all meeting with handlers, etc. Law enforcement would be up in arms if they were being tracked like “common citizens”. No way the police are being tracked… They don’t even leave on dash cams or mics…

      1. My guess is that it will take quite a while for them to figure this out. These people aren’t bright. In the meantime, the Sinoloa, etc. will make good use of this to track where police patrol most often, figure out who undercover agents are, etc.

    4. as far as the locals, which is where the rubber hits the road vis a vis law enforcement, it really doesn’t offer much of an advantage.

      routine patrol is just that. not a lot of value added

      i used to be amazed at the amount of info available on police practices that common criminals and criminal orgs ignore

      it’s already out there and they already ignore it.

      for example, at a minimum burglars and auto thieves could substantially decrease their likelihood of apphrension by choosing locales with BARK felony only puruit policies

      but they are almost universally ignorant of these things. i’ve proposed that those agencies that have agressive policies should advertise them , to shunt crime over to the pussy cities like bellevue, seattle, etc. but the criminals are too busy ignoring the stuff that would help them get away with their crimes. you can thank meth

  4. Another example of lax journalism giving credence to this crap.…..05e7b.html

  5. Another example of lax journalism giving credence to this crap.…..05e7b.html

  6. By ebakke on 12/22/2008 12:30:33 PM , Rating: 2

    I mean, I got caught with explosives in middle school

    There is absolutely no justifiable reason a student should have explosives of any kind in a middle school. That, and similar things that are strictly enforced today, is something children should be taught. If their parents aren’t doing it, the school district has to.

    This is why we can’t have nice (fun) things 🙁

    “If ye love wealth better than liberty,
    the tranquility of servitude
    better than the animating contest of freedom,
    go home from us in peace.
    We ask not your counsels or your arms.
    Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.
    May your chains set lightly upon you,
    and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.”

    Samuel Adams

    1. Keith Moon had explosives every day, everywhere and he turned out alright (except for the while dying early thing) and was the bane of any toilette. Fuck these pansies who get their panties up in a bunch over a cherry bomb or M80. If you blow your hand off you deserve it, natural selection.

      1. I must say, niobiumstudio, although you are new to these forums, I am starting to really appreciate your input. In your latest post, you have invoked Keith Moon (a hero), and used the phrases, “bane of any toilette” and “panties up in a bunch”. You topped it off with violent imagery, and the classic “natural selection”. Awesome. I think you’ll fit in well around here. 😉

        1. As a drummer I cannot NOT invoke Keith Moon in ANY threat that talks about explosives of any variety. And TYVM. I am glad I got past the “Fuck you slaver!” phase.

          1. We’re a cranky bunch, much abused by trolls.

            I’m sure we’ll disagree (some) (more), but I hope you stick around.

            1. Oh, I will. It is rare to find a bunch of people to argue with for hours at work, to forward your goals of procrastination, who all agree with you in general, or at some certain level. And most importantly can form a sentence and complete thought while being on the interwebs. One of the few places where Godwin’s Law isn’t law – or at least devolves to something other than Nazi’s and Hitler – like motherfucking, necrophilia, and playing trombones that are rather too rusty for playing anything other than swing.

              1. Or, more as demonstrated below devolve to: telling Dunphy to go fuck himself, him going on about how police are awesome and everyone ignoring him – thus letting the thread die… at least in my short while here.

                1. police are pretty awesome. but then, i am happy that the american people routinely recognize that , poll after poll, year after year.

                  worrying about what the bigoted, fact averse reazonoids thing about police is about as useful as worrying about what the kkk thinks about blacks. it’s pretty clear that data isn’t where the hate come from.

                  and it’s pretty clear, in post after post, that it is hate. hate is rarely REASONABLE.

                  1. what the kkk thinks about blacks

                    think you’ve got that backwards

                  2. I have respect for all the local police I have ever encountered in my life. Most Sheriffs too. Who I have absolute contempt for it the State Police in nearly every state. While, since no doubt I am white, have never been arrested or in trouble in my life I have gotten two speeding tickets, from state troopers, without speeding. Then, going to court with GPS data/OBDII data dump from my car to prove absolutely I wasn’t speeding – and the court taking the side of a Trooper with no evidence (just word) – I have to take my own personal experience into account. Which is why I dislike, and completely distrust State Police. Now, you can give me whatever BS reason about how readouts from my GPS tracker and OBDII dump with Speed, Throttle Position, O2 Voltages, RPM, Gear, Etc., VIDEO of my car’s interior/exterior don’t matter against a State Trooper’s sworn statement and I must have been doing something wrong to get pulled over – but I doubt amybody here has unfounded dislike/distrust for the police. I guarantee everyone here has countless stories like my own. Couple that with countless “Isolated Incidents”, police rubberstamping what police say, bullshit warrants, and the like – you get a very negative image. I don’t give a fuck who you are or how great of a Dick Tracy you are at solving crime – but FUCK YOU and fuck you telling me, along with everyone else here that we have no reason to dislike or distrust the police. Good day to you.

                    1. And for reference, I know that this on my windshield: http://www.brickhousesecurity……estSellers

                      Along with this plugged into my OBDII port:

                      Are much less reliable, and total fabrications when a State Trooper says otherwise…

  7. From the fake plates link:

    “I’ve objected to the robotic menaces primarily on the grounds that they were fallible revenue machines for the state rather than legitimate means of protecting life and limb,” said’s J.D. Tucille. “It never occurred to me that the [speed cameras] were also handy tools for wreaking revenge on enemies and authority figures. That was clearly a lapse of imagination on my part.”

    I’m beginning to like this Tucille fellow.

    1. He is pretty awesome. His blog has an article titled “Why I want to paint a huge, raised middle finger on my roof” with the following excerpt quoted in it:

      A bill passed last week allocating more than $63 billion to the Federal Aviation Administration would increase the existence of drones in civilian airspace across America and is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama. ?
      If the new bill becomes law, up to 30,000 drones could by flying in U.S. airspace by decade’s end. The Senate passed the bill by a 75-20 margin. Civil liberties groups have spoken out on the measure, stating the new legislation offers no restrictions on drone surveillance operations by police and federal agencies and could put us on track toward a “surveillance society.”

  8. Don’t they already have some sort of clear license plate cover that can obscure it to electronic readers while leaving it perfectly viewable to the naked eye?

    1. 1. It doesn’t work well
      2. Most states have made them illegal.

  9. I don’t think the cops are smart enough to realize where all this is leading.

    The more each innocent individual’s movements are known the harder it is to pin a crime on them.

    There are a lot of lazy, incompetent cops out there who will not cannot perform a proper investigation and thus grab whoever can plausibly made out to be the actual criminal.

    With all this tracking going on we will all be living in alibi city.

    Given how long it has taken cops to come to terms with private video cameras recording everything it will be years before they stop framing people and in that time it’s going to be embarrassment after embarrassment for them and outrage and entertainment for us.

    There are also many DAs and judges that go along with whatever the cops bring to them. And they too will suffer for their stupidity.

    1. Furthermore this will make getting away with violent crimes that much harder.

      It may make tracking down violent criminals really easy.

      And all of this means that there will be less perceived need to have such a huge policing apparatus.

      And it looks like people are tiring of the drug war. And they are certainly tiring of the massive budgets and pensions.

      Add all of this together and there might, real soon, come a tipping point where these massive police-layer-corrections industry collapses from lack of support.

      1. Furthermore this will make getting away with violent crimes that much harder.

        Somewhat. It will make the stupid, impulsive criminals that much easier to catch. It will make it even harder to catch meticulous, patient criminals.

        It doesn’t take a person very long to figure out a way to use the new set of government eyes to construct fake alibis.

        It’s like the drug war – we’re really good at catching small and medium sized smugglers. The big guys? Not so much. They’re smart enough to stay one step ahead of LE.

        Take the rise of home surveillance systems. It won’t be very long before career criminals are using ski masks and gloves, which means your fancy security system is worthless.

        1. moron burglars TO THIS DAY still routinely commit burglaries without even wearing gloves and are routinely caught with fingerprints

          and this technology has been around a long time

          sorry, but i’ll take empirical reality over your ivory tower naval gazing (that is fact averse)

          some of our good crews always wear gloves, but it really is amazing how often run o the mill burglars and thieves don’t. even in inclement weather

          of course many of these prop criminals have dope money for a motivation, and they call it “dope” for a reason.

          1. Oh, no argument. You’ll catch 98%+ of the petty criminals. But if economic conditions are right(too many smart, unemployed folks), I don’t suspect it will take long before the tactics change.

    2. jesus christ, the utter rubbish never stops

      1. Don’t get mad at me you’re the one that willing works for a corrupt system that destroys innocent people time and time again.

        You people are mostly worthless when you are not actively making things worse.

    3. You’re assuming that this info will be available to the defendent in discovery.

      Camera evidence dissapears all the time.

  10. I don’t suppose there’s any kind of coating or cover that leaves your license plate visible to the human eye, but not so visible to cameras?

      1. Yeah but if that ever became prevalent they’d just beef-up the IR filters on the cameras.

  11. medina, WA btw (home of the gates compound) has one way in and one way out, and they record all license plates.

    that aside, this article offers strong support for the mosaic 4th amendment theories being discussed over at

    simply put, w/o them the availability of technology and the plain view doctrine (if it occurs in plain view/open to the public, there is no privacy concern under the 4th) means that without some implementation of a mosaic privacy theory (setting aside that the federal constitution doesn’t recognize a right to privacy, but my state constitution does), the de facto reality is that technology has made the 4th somewhat obsolete

    there’s never been a constitutional question with these issues, from our country’s founding days, but technology wasnt available to make it problematic

  12. the federal constitution doesn’t recognize a right to privacy

    Federal courts do.

    1. Yes, yes it does – since the constitution doesn’t *explicitly* say you don’t have the right to provacy, you automatically have that right.

      That’s how our law works, unless it says up front that you can’t do something, you can do it.

  13. I’ve been wondering for a long time – why do we even have license plates?

    What purpose do they serve that is substantially different than requiring you to have a trackable number on your shirt?

    1. Is there a link connecting the cameras to DHS?

  14. We have hit a point in society where the government and corporations take advantage of us and take our personal information, and use it or sell it for their own benefit.

    They have no incentive to protect us, so we must protect ourselves!

    There are steps you can take to keep yourself safe and keep your personal information private. This website is a pretty good resource:

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